A rare plant from upstate South Carolina – Pachysandra procumbens or Allegheny Spurge — 2017-03-10

A few days ago, I saw a post that my friend, Rich Stevenson had posted on FB. He first posted an image of just the foliage, not knowing that it was in bloom. The next day, he posted an image of the flowers, after returning to the site.

Rich is a superb photographer and naturalist, and is always discovering new sights to see in our Southern Appalachian Mountains. I am very grateful that he shared with me the location for a very rare wildflower, Pachysandra procumbens or Allegheny Spurge. It is a “cousin” to the Pachysandra that is used as a garden ground cover, and which can be purchased at many nurseries. The one we photographed, however, is a native plant, and is found in South Carolina only in Pickens County. It is more common in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. I believe Georgia also has a few populations. It is also found in only one county in North Carolina, as well. Having said that, when it is found, it is locally abundant, meaning that it is everywhere you look! There were thousands of plants at the site we visited, but we managed to find only about two dozen flowering stems. I believe we were a week or so early for the peak bloom, but I wanted to get out to photograph them because we have snow and very cold weather due in the next couple of days.

Here is an image of the strange flowers of this plant:

Allegheny Spurge Allegheny Spurge

What you might notice right off is the different looking flowers at the bottom of the stem. These are the pistillate (female) flowers, whereas the rest of the white flowers are the staminate (male) flowers which have stamens only and no petals. A plant with both male and female flowers on the same plant is called, Androgynomonoecious. Most of the flowering stems we saw had only male flowers, so I’m not sure how well this plant is able to produce seeds. It does, however, do quite well with vegetative propagation, producing a number of underground runners which root at length, creating new plants.

The plant is quite very attractive, having broad, mottled leaves. Here are a couple of images of the beautiful, evergreen foliage:

Foliage of Allegheny Spurge

Foliage of Allegheny Spurge

Normally, flowers appear at the top of a plant’s leaf stem, right? In the case of Allegheny Spurge, the flower stems sprout from the horizontal runners or stolons. Here are a couple of images showing this behavior:

Allegheny Spurge Allegheny Spurge

On the leftmost image, above, note the female flowers on the lower portion of the stem.

Here is close-up shot of the male flowers (stamens, no petals) sprouting from the horizontal runner:

Flowers sprouting from the horizontal runner.

The flowers are born on a vertical stem that is from 1 inch to 3 inches (2.5 cm to 7.5 cm) tall. They are quite fragrant, producing a spicy, floral aroma.

Here are some additional shots of this unusual flower:

Allegheny Spurge Allegheny Spurge
Allegheny Spurge Allegheny Spurge

In the leftmost image, above, note the small bee, which I believe might be a pollinator, but it did not visit the female flowers of this plant, because this plant did not produce female flowers. It is my observation that only 1 of 10 of the plants in this population produce female flowers.

Earlier, I stated that I thought we might be a bit early to catch the population at peak bloom. The reason is because we found many plants in tight bud:

Allegheny Spurge in bud Allegheny Spurge in bud

There are additional images of these flowers on my Flickr site, here.

In addition to the Allegheny Spurge, there were several other Spring ephemeral wildflower species in this rich, cove forest. The first of these is Anemone acutiloba or Sharp-lobed Hepatica. This species used to be known as Hepatica acutiloba, but the genus name was recently changed. Here are a few images of some of the many hundreds of plants we saw:

Sharp-lobed Hepatica Sharp-lobed Hepatica

While the greatest proportion of the flowers in this population were white, I did find a few of my favorites with a blush of pinkish-purple in the center:

Sharp-lobed Hepatica Sharp-lobed Hepatica

Sharp-lobed Hepatica

We did see a number of Trillium plants scattered here and there, but they were still in tight bud. I believe these are Trillium discolor or Faded Trillium. Here is a sample image of what we saw, followed by an image of what I believe they will look like in several weeks:

Faded Trillium in bud

Faded Trillium in flower

Another wildflower that is common to our rich cove forests is Obolaria virginica or Virginia Pennywort. The ones we found on this trip were just spectacular. They were large, up to 6 inches (15 cm) tall and in full flower. The foliage is special in that it is a green-purple color combination. Here are some images:

Virginia Pennywort Virginia Pennywort

Virginia Pennywort

I did notice another unusual plant growing in the wettest portions of the hillsides, in the seeps. It is Conocephalum salebrosum or Cat-tongue Liverwort. These are very primitive plants, usually only a few cells in thickness. For some reason, I have always been drawn to primitive plants, such as those in the family, Lycopodiaceae or Club Mosses. But that is a story for another time… Cat-tongue Liverwort does produce flowers, of a sort, but this is not the season. We also found some growing on a rock in the middle of a shallow stream:

Cat-tongue Liverwort Cat-tongue Liverwort
Cat-tongue Liverwort Cat-tongue Liverwort

An ever-present species in our cove forests is Viola hastata or Halberd-leaved Violet. It’s tiny, yellow flowers are easy to spot on the forest floor:

Halberd-leaved Violet Halberd-leaved Violet

Halberd-leaved Violet

Viola sororia or Common Wood Violet just seems to grow everywhere. Here is one peeking up through the leaf litter:

Common Wood Violet

We were just a bit early to see Tiarella cordifolia or Foam Flower (left image below) and Sanguinaria canadensis or Blood Root (right image below) in full bloom at this location, but we did find a couple of both of these that were just getting started:

Foam Flower Blood Root

As expected, there were loads of another favorite just getting started, Erigeron pulchellus or Robin’s Plantain:

Robin's Plantain

We finally decided that we had photographed all that there was to photograph and headed back up the trail to the truck. On the way back, I decided to photograph one boot print of a set that we had seen when we entered the trail. This HUGE boot print belongs to quite a hiker. I’m thinking that I’m glad we didn’t meet him/her/it on the trail… 😉 That is Walter’s size 11 foot next to the boot print:

Big Foot!

My thanks, again, to my friend Rich for putting me on to this location. I had known that the rare, Allegheny Spurge grew in South Carolina, but I had no idea where to find it. I’m happy that I could present something beside the usual Spring ephemerals to you, Dear Readers. I hope to add some other new species from time to time, if I can narrow down some locations.

Until next time,

–Jim

16 comments


  • tammy

    wow

    March 11, 2017
  • Diane

    I hope you post again on BRNN. Great photos!

    March 11, 2017
  • Chris Sermons

    Jim- I heard that a population of Allegheny Spurge was known from either Anderson or Abbeville county but was inundated by the creation of Lake Russell back in the ’80s. It was the only other occurrence of it in S.C.

    March 11, 2017
  • John Fowler

    Neat!

    March 11, 2017
  • Once again stunning images Jim, and well written description.The blog with its lovely sharp shots comes over well on this side of the pond ! Isn’t technology marvellous.

    March 12, 2017
  • Penny Firth

    All of these photos are wonderful. Makes spring seem just around the corner even though we are about to be socked by winter again. I particularly appreciate the liverwort pictures!

    March 12, 2017
  • Julie

    Stunning! Had to pick myself up off the floor after viewing this series of images, totally rattled my artistic side.

    Allegheny Spurge was a lifer find for me this spring in North FL. I missed it blooming this time but hope to get another chance next yr.

    March 12, 2017
  • Kim Blankenshipg

    Thank you!

    March 12, 2017
  • Sharon Johnson

    Such marvelous photography! Keep the photos coming, they are much appreciated!

    March 12, 2017
  • Susan Pfeiffer

    Your images get better and better, Jim! Thanks also for the Allegheny Spurge reproductive lesson.

    March 12, 2017
  • Becky Kessel

    Once again, these images make my heart glad that you are out in search of wildflowers! Just beautiful- I am always inspired. Thanks Jim!

    March 12, 2017
  • Shelley

    These are just gorgeous— and just the thing on a morning in between two last cold breaths of winter. Thank you for being the best harbinger of spring.

    March 13, 2017
  • What make and model camera do you use to capture the broad depth of field? Very fine. Thanks

    March 13, 2017
    • Jim

      Bob, I use an Olympus E-5 DSLR (4/3 CMOS sensor) and a Sigma 105mm lens coupled with an Olympus 1.4X teleconverter. I always use a tripod, and I shoot at ISO 100. I sometimes employ a hand-held flash for fill light.

      March 13, 2017
  • Ava Turnquist

    Just spectacular! Really enjoyed the cat tongue photos,
    Thank you for sharing.

    March 14, 2017
  • sonnia hill

    Wonderful, Jim. Saw these on flickr and then realized I had missed your blog. Great to learn about the rare Pachysandra procumbens.

    March 18, 2017

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