Euonymus americanus (Strawberry Bush)

Euonymus americanus in bloom. Strawberry bush usually blooms in mid to late May in MO. This species can be difficult to distinguish from the other bushy Euonymus in the area, including the invasive Euonymus alatus (burning bush). When not in bloom, E. americanus is the only bushy Euonymus that has five petals, all the remaining having four.

Ranked as an S2 (imperiled) species of conservation concern in Missouri, Euonymus americanus is a striking plant in more than one season. Where it grows in the Show Me State it is always threatened by white-tailed deer who absolutely love our native Euonymus spp. In areas with overpopulation of deer, the plant has been removed from the landscape. This past autumn, I planted one in the fenced-in portion of our backyard in the remaining humus and decay of an old ash stump. I’m hoping the soil here will be rich enough for its liking and that the deer will not discover it.

The unique and unmistakable fruits that give strawberry bush its name. This plant was found in Butler County, MO.

Hydrolea (Water Leaves)

A couple of interesting Missouri Natives from a monogeneric family – the Hydroleaceae. The genus, Hydrolea, comes from the Greek hydor (water) and eleia (olive), referring to the wet habitats these plants prefer (they definitely like their feet wet and can withstand long periods of partial to complete submersion) and their leaves resemblance to the leaves of the olive. The flowers of these plants are downright stunning – these shades of blue are pretty rare in the flora of Missouri.

Hydrolea uniflora, photographed at Big Cane Conservation Area, 22 August 2021.
Hydrolea ovata is ranked S2 (imperiled) in the state of Missouri. This plant was photographed at Tingler Prairie Natural Area in Howell County, MO.

Magnolia tripetala (Umbrella Magnolia)

It was a pleasure seeing my first wild Magnolia tripetala on our trip to Arkansas back in May 2021. To make things even better, this plant was found within a hundred feet or so from the Kentucky lady’s slippers we were there to photograph.

Magnolia tripetala (umbrella magnolia) photographed within the Ouachita National Forest.

Salvia azurea (Blue Sage)

All three of the Salvia azurea I planted in the front bed did very well this year and even played host to an equally gorgeous moth, Pyrausta inornatalis.

Closeup of blooms of Salvia azurea (Lamiaceae).
The inornate pyrausta moth (Pyrausta inornatalis) uses members of the Salvia genus as host to raise its larvae.
A week or so after I saw the first adult Pyrausta inornatalis, I found a few caterpillars of the same species.

Thalia dealbata (Powdery Thalia)

Thalia dealbata, or powdery thalia, is a fascinating plant that I was introduced to this past August while on a botany trip with Pete Kozich and Stephen Dilks. A member of the mostly tropical arrowroot family (Marantaceae), T. dealbata is the only member of this family to be found in Missouri and only in the low and wet areas of the southeastern portion of the state. We found these plants a little late in their flowering season but with a few blooms in prime condition remaining at Otter Slough Conservation Area.

A closeup look at the mirrored pair of flowers of Thalia dealbata (powdery thalia).

The leaves of Thalia are what the plants are primarily known for, looking very reminiscent of the cannas and very tropical in appearance. However, doing a little research after seeing these guys for the first time, I have become fascinated with the flowers and the pollination mechanism they developed. First of all, what appears to be a single flower in the image posted here is actually a pair of blooms in mirror image of each other. Additionally, the gorgeous purple petals are not petals at all but highly modified and sterile stamens (staminodes). This is just the beginning of the weird story of these flowers. These staminodes are key to a pollination strategy that literally throws pollen in the face of and often ends in the demise of all but the strongest of would-be insect pollinators. I was going to attempt to try and describe the pollination biology of this system, but this has been expertly described by Price and Rogers in a 1987 article published in Missouriensis. I highly recommend you give this a read!

Pete standing behind a nice batch of Thalia dealbata.

Agalinis fasciculata (Fasciculate False Foxglove)

Agalinis fasciculata, known as the fasciculate false foxglove and beach false foxglove was one of the more fascinating and unexpected plants I became acquainted with this year. A member of the Orobanchaceae family, this species is an annual hemiparasitic plant that does well in poor and sandy soils. I photographed these plants at the Missouri Mines State Historic Site in St. Francois County.

The genus Agalinis comes from the Greek – agan, meaning ‘very’ and linon, refering to ‘flax’, apparently in reference to the similarity of the flowers to those of flax. The species and common names refer to the fasciculate, or bundled manner in which the leaves are attached to the stem – something I failed to take any photos of this year. In my defense, much of the stem and leaves of these plants in mid-September were beginning to senesce and were not very photogenic.

Agalinis fasciculata (Fasciculate False Foxglove) in glorious bloom at Missouri Mines State Historic Site.
Many species of bees and flies like this syrphid fly act as pollinators of Agalinis fasciculata.
A rare six-lobed corolla of Agalinis fasciculata. This was the only six-lobed flower I found among hundreds I observed on this visit.

Aesculus pavia (Red Buckeye)

The red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) was definitely one of the plants of the year for me. With so many trips to southeastern Missouri (this buckeye is primarily natively found in the Mississippi Lowlands Division of Missouri) and Arkansas, I and my friends came across this plant in bloom many times. This particular little stand was found at Arkansas Oak Natural Area in Nevada County, AR. The etymology of the Latin name: Aesculus refers to the horsechestnut and pavia is named for Peter Paaw, an early 17th century Dutch botanist. This plant can be grown at least as far north as the St. Louis area but apparently needs high quality rich soil to thrive.

A stand of red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) growing in a pine forest-savannah setting at Arkansas Oak Natural Area.

Baptisia sphaerocarpa (Yellow Wild Indigo)

This nice patch of Baptisia sphaerocarpa was found back in May of 2021 at Rick Evans Grandview Prairie WMA in Hempstead Co., AR. Although this species is found in a few of our southwestern prairies, most consider these to be introductions and not a native plant of Missouri.

Baptisia sphaerocarpa (Yellow Wild Indigo)