Monday, June 23, 2014

Number 535

My list of plant species found naturally growing at Blue Jay Barrens continues to expand.  The latest addition to the list, Number 535, is Hairy Wingstem, Verbesina helianthoides, a native species uncommon in Ohio.  This brings the number of native species up to 440 which is about 25 percent of all native plant species found in the state of Ohio.  That's not bad for a property of just over 100 acres in size.

I’ve seen Hairy Wingstem at other sites in Ohio and it was growing in conditions identical to what is shown here.  Open woodlands on dry soils seems to be its preferred habitat.  I’ve long believed that the plant should be found on this property.  It has just taken me this long to find it.

There are several possible reasons why I failed to notice the plant before now.  One is the fact that the related species Wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia, is common over the entire property and shaded individuals of that species are more diminutive and come close to resembling the Hairy species.  A cursory glance at this winged stem might cause a person to call it a Wingstem, especially since stunted plants of the standard Wingstem are within 100 feet in all directions of this site.  Close examination of the Hairy Wingstem does confirm that it is hairier than its relative.

Leaves, besides being a slightly different shape, also have more hair.  The most noticeable difference is the feel of the leaf as you rub it between thumb and finger.  Hairy Wingstem is soft and pliable, while Wingstem is rough and stiff.

Hairy Wingstem flowers have more petals and fewer flower heads than the standard Wingstem species.  The heads resemble several other species of yellow woodland sunflowers, so are sometimes overlooked on that account.

Flower heads are attached to short stalks and crowd together at the top of the plant.  It gives the impression that the plant has suffered some injury or disease that resulted in an unsightly plant deformity.

There are plenty of young plants coming on.  Tree loss has caused the canopy in this section of the woods to open more during the last 10 years.  I’m wondering if the plants have been stunted by lack of light and just in the last few years have begun to grow to their full potential.  I guess the reason for my inability to find the plants until now is not as important as the fact that the plants are here.  I counted over 100 Hairy Wingstem plants and at least 30 of those are currently flowering.  It’ll be fun to watch the changes in this patch over the next few years.

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