Species of the Week
Number 12 --
August 21, 2006
In the Species of the Week feature of the Wildwood Web we took a close look
at one of the species that lives in Wildwood. To see the earlier featured species check the Species
of the Week archives.
Composites, that is, plants of the Sunflower Family,
Asteraceae, very commonly bloom in the late summer and fall.
As we saw with earlier species of the week,
pale Indian plantain, and
cup plant, plants of this family
have heads containing two kinds of flowers, ray flowers and disc
flowers. The ray flowers spread out like the rays of the sun,
and are what most people call the petals. This disc flowers
are tubular and crowded together in a button or disc at the center
of the head. Wingstem, a late summer to fall blooming
composite, follows this pattern. The ray flowers are long,
yellow and somewhat droopy. The disc flowers are found in a
spherical button at the center of the flower. The disc flowers
are also yellow, but the button from which they grow is yellowish-green. The plant is
tall, about 5 feet or taller, with leaves not in pairs on the stem,
except the lowest may be paired.
The common name, wingstem, refers to the leaf-like strips that run
down either side of the stem, called wings by botanists.
Wingstem grows along streams and in moist woods from
Ontario and New York, south to Florida and west to Texas, Oklahoma,
Kansas and Nebraska. It particularly favors floodplains along
streams, that is, areas that are periodically flooded, as during a
particularly heavy rain. In Wildwood it likes to grow along
There are over 200 species in the genus Verbesina,
mostly in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate areas of North America.
Only sixteen species occur in the United States.
The species name, alternifolia, means "alternate
leaves," and refers to the fact that the leaves do not occur in pairs on the
stem, but alternate to either side as you go up the stem. This is actually not unusual, though; about a third of the
species of Verbesina in the United States have alternate leaves.
The genus name, on the other hand, is not so clear. Some sources
speculate that it means "like a Verbena," but members of the genus
Verbena, the vervains, are very different plants and don't resemble
wingstem at all. Henry Gleason, in his monumental work, The New
Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Eastern United States and
Adjacent Canada, states that Linnaeus called Verbesina a
printer's typo for Forbesina, the intended name. If this is so,
we should believe Linnaeus, since it was he who gave wingstem its scientific
name back in the 1700s.
Look for the droopy flowers of wingstem along
Connelly's Run in Wildwood and along rivers and streams throughout
our area. It is one of the most common bloomers of later
summer and early fall.