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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Viola sororia or Common Wood Violet just seems to grow everywhere. Here is one peeking up through the leaf litter:
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:
As expected, there were loads of another favorite just getting started, Erigeron pulchellus or 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:
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,