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The Plant Sleuths

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

County, also earlier in Barry, Franklin, St. Louis and Scott counties

Family: Malvaceae (mallow family)

Flowering dates: July to August

Starvation cactus or plains prickly pear - (Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha)

article photoPolyacantha means many-spined, and this cactus has so many spines it appears silvery, quite different from other prickly pears. The plant is low and spreading. Its flowers are yellow, occasionally tinged pink or red, and the fruit is bristly.

Though this cactus is common west of Missouri, it is noted only once in the state; lead and zinc mining may have destroyed that habitat near Webb City. It prefers sandy soil and grows on glades, rocky hillsides, dry prairies and roadsides.

Last seen: 1909, in Jasper County

Family: Cactaceae (cactus family)

Flowering dates: May and June

Small whorled pogonia - (Isotria medeoloides)

article photo This rare native orchid is inconspicuous, even in bloom. Look for the whorl, an umbrellalike arrangement of five or more drooping leaves near the top of the stem, just below the flower. The plant, up to 10 inches tall, has 1 or 2 greenish-yellow flowers, followed by fruit capsules. It grows in small colonies.

Though noted in the state only once, on a wooded limestone hill in southeastern Missouri, botanists continue to search for it. The small whorled pogonia is one of North America's rarest plants and is federally listed as threatened.

Last seen: 1897, near Glenallen in Bollinger County

Family: Orchidaceae (orchid family)

Flowering dates: May, with a fruit capsule June to October

Eastern prairie fringed orchid - (Platanthera leucophaea)

article photo An array of extremely fancy fringed flowers should catch your eye; they may be white, creamy white or greenish-white. The sturdy stem grows one to three feet tall. This orchid likes alkaline, moist soils: swales of upland prairies, river bottom prairies and spring-fed limestone meadows (fens).

There are only minute differences between the Eastern prairie fringed orchid and the Western prairie fringed orchid, which is present in Missouri but state-listed as endangered. Either is an important find; both are federally listed as threatened.

Last seen: 1951, in Carter County, also reported earlier in Jefferson, Madison, Ralls and St. Louis counties.

Family: Orchidaceae (orchid family)

Flowering dates: About June 10 to July 4

Roundleaf monkey flower - (Mimulus glabratus var. fremontii)

article photo You might get wet feet looking for this one, because it grows in and around springs and spring branches

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