This month's pick was hard for me, as May has so many wonderful flowering species. A recent adventure was what actually led me to my decision. One plant that I have been trying to get new photos of is bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana). I have several slides of it that have been digitized but none of the images are as clean as I would like. I pulled out my old CRP Wildflowers brochure (yes, I keep one handy) to see if I had missed the dates and unfortunately I was too late. However that search brought me to the realization that there was another plant that I needed new photos of that was just beginning to flower, but would also require some quick action on my part to catch before the bloom time was over. The plant I'm talking about is Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea).
|Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)|
|Indian paintbrush growing along with divided-leaf ragwort (Packera millefolium).|
For a long time Indian paintbrush was classified in the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae) due to many characteristics it shares with other members of that family, but more recently it has been moved into the Broomrape Family (Orobanchaceae), along with some other genera such as Aureolaria and Agalinis. The move of these genera is due to the hemi-parasitic nature of these plants. All members of the Broomrape Family are root parasites. Several members of this family of plants lack chlorophyll and are incapable of photosynthesis, making it necessary for them to parasitize other plants. Indian paintbrush has chlorophyll and is actually capable of surviving on its own without a host, but it really thrives when it can attach itself to a host plant, particularly grasses which is what it is most often associated with. On the Chimney Rock Mountain sites, it is likely parasitizing Biltmore sedge, as that seems to be the most numerous plant in the areas where Indian paintbrush is growing. On the Sugarloaf Mountain site, the plants are surrounded by grasses and many other species, so there are a plethora of possible host plants.
|The flowers are the greenish-yellow parts above the showy bracts.|
I'm sure people get tired of me saying it, but Hickory Nut Gorge is truly a botanical wonder. I never tire of exploring it and seeing those wonderful things that make it so special. I have no idea what next month's flower will be, but I can tell you that it will be every bit as awesome as Indian paintbrush is for May.