Thursday, June 10, 2010

Virginia Ground Cherry

It’s wonderful when rare plants also display attractive flowers. This is Virginia Ground Cherry, Physalis virginiana, a small plant that is currently listed as Potentially Threatened in Ohio. I love the chocolaty brown of the stamens.

At Blue Jay Barrens, this is a plant of dry, sparsely vegetated sites. The soil in which it grows is extremely well drained and contains a large amount of limestone gravel. This plant competes poorly with overshadowing vegetation and probably does well because the tall grasses are stunted here.

When I was first developing my Blue Jay Barrens flora list, I made a list of uncommon species and their preferred habitats and then went in search of them in what I considered the most likely places. This was one of the plants on my list and my research allowed me to walk out of the house and straight to the area where it was to be found. This was the first plant I looked for after making the list and finding it so soon was an indicator that I was doing something right. That list helped me to find about a dozen rare plant species, but none of the rest were nearly as straight forward as the Virginia Ground Cherry.

This is one of those hairy plants that I like so much. The hairs in this case were one of the characteristics necessary to the proper identification of the plant. This is a plant that I discovered before I had a digital camera and it being a suspected rarity, I couldn’t pick a sample and bring it to the house. I made notes of all of the characters I thought important and went back to the house to look in the books. Typical of the descriptions I made back then, I left out a key characteristic. The book wanted to know which way the curved hairs pointed along the stem. Hairs pointing down the stem meant a rare species and up the stem meant a commoner. I hurried back out and found that the hairs did indeed point down the stem.

The Virginia Ground Cherry is found in the transition zone between the open grassland and the closed forest. It’s described as being found in open areas, prairies and upland woods. I’ve looked, but I can’t find it anywhere but that narrow strip that offers a partly shaded exposure.

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