Friday, May 31, 2013

A Rose by Any Other Name

My wife and I spotted this unusual looking plant in the woods on the edge of our driveway. I have never seen anything quite like it. Although I looked through a lot of plant identification books as well as online, I wasn't able to learn it's name. Finally, I emailed a photo to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. They were able to identify it for me. It's common names are Strawberry Bush, Bursting Hearts or John Baptiste - Percival, which all refer to the fruit it will eventually produce. The scientific name is Euonymous americanus.

What initially attracted our attention was the overall look of a leaf with a flower centered in each. Not every leaf has an associated flower (especially the terminal leaves), but most do.

As you can see in this image, the flowers sit up off the leaf sort of like a tiny umbrella.

Notice how most flowers have a second bud that hasn't opened yet.

The five-petaled flowers are fleshier than the petals of regular flowers and have been blooming for a couple of weeks at least. It looks like ants are a main pollinator.

Is it a tree or a bush? The plant is only five or six feet tall and I assume mature if it is putting out these flowers. That argues against it being a tree. But I always think of a bush as being multiple stems and this only has one main stem. I thought that maybe I was wrong about that since I can think of a couple of bushes that can grow on one stem, crepe myrtle for one. 

As it turns out, it is neither one. It is a forb. A forb is any herbaceous flowering plant that is not a grass. Unlike trees, forbs do not have any woody tissue. Unusual in this plant is the fact that the stems as well as the leaves carry on photosynthesis. The stems stay green throughout winter.

I took this image earlier today, two weeks after some of the earlier images and you can see the second bud finally opening up. I'll come back to it in future posts as the plant has an interesting cycle of development over the course of the season.

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