“I Found This Plant ...”
flowers. The nodding flowers of late summer or early fall gave rise to the common name, but they turn skyward as they begin to produce fruits.
Pinesap flowers as early as late June. It is similar to Indian pipe, but has more than one flower per stem, is never white and ranges from yellow to salmon colored.
False hellebore (Veratrum woodii)
A perennial of moist forests in the eastern two-thirds of Missouri, except for the southeastern lowlands, false hellebore is conspicuous in the spring for its large clusters of pleated leaves. Individual leaves can reach 1 foot or more in length. There are usually several plants growing in close proximity on lower portions of east- or north-facing slopes or bluffs.
Flowering plants produce a stem that grows from 2 feet to more than 4 feet tall, its upper portion branched and bearing small purple flowers. In most years, however, few if, any plants, will flower at a site. The plant contains poisons and is avoided by most grazing animals due to its sharp, burning taste.
Spider lily (Hymenocallis caroliniana)
This striking perennial wildflower is geographically restricted in Missouri to the southeastern lowlands, where it grows in low swampy areas and bottomland forests. The large, fragrant white flowers appear in clusters of three to seven in July or August.
The flowers are supported by a leafless stem about 2 feet tall, above a cluster of strap-like leaves up to 2 feet long. The spider lily is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental but may not flower consistently further north than southern Missouri.
Devil’s claw or unicorn plant (Proboscidea louisianica)
Devil’s claw is a plant of waste areas, railroads, pastures, sandy ground and gravel bars along streams. It is native to Missouri but is uncommon and scattered in central and southern regions.
The showy flowers, sticky surfaces and rank odor make this an interesting species. However, the fruits are the real attention-getter, unlike any other found in our flora. The young fruits can be pickled for consumption, but older fruits become woody and definitely inedible. They persist for many months and may be found long after the annual plant has withered and disintegrated. The long beak on the fruit splits at maturity into two halves that curl into the 6-inch-long “devil’s claws.”
Deciduous holly or possum haw (Ilex decidua)
The bright-red fruits of deciduous holly stand out as leaves are shed in the fall and what were once thickets of foliage become the grays and browns of woody plant barks. Deciduous holly is the more common of two native Missouri hollies that lose their leaves each fall. It is a shrub or small tree, often with arching branches with numerous stubby projections called spur branches. With the leaves off, the numerous red berries of deciduous holly catch the eye and lead observers to question its identity.
Deciduous holly can be found in a variety of wet or dry habitats throughout the Ozarks and the southeastern lowlands, but it is absent from much of northern Missouri. As with other hollies, only female trees produce berries. The berries persist throughout most of the winter, their bright-red color eventually turning to brown. They seem to be ignored by wildlife for months but eventually are consumed as either their taste improves or other wild fruits become scarcer.
Dodder, lovevine (Cuscuta)
Dodder has been described as looking like a batch of orange spaghetti that someone threw onto other vegetation. Without leaves, chlorophyll or roots, it is understandable why observers might question whether dodder is a plant at all.
There are ten species of dodder that occur in Missouri, and all are related to our familiar morning glories. All are parasitic, deriving their water and food from the plants to which they become attached. Their stems can twine tightly around another plant or sprawl in masses on top of other vegetation.
In summer or fall, the small white flowers make dodder more readily identifiable as a plant, and it is primarily the flower characteristics that allow botanists to identify the species. In southern climates, dodder can be an agricultural pest by infesting crop fields, decreasing yields and fouling harvesting machinery. In Missouri, it is usually just a curiosity.
Note: Latin, or scientific, names are given along with common names to more accurately specify these plants. The Latin names are the key to obtaining more information about the species. Internet searches on the Latin names will provide additional photos and descriptions. All of the plants listed in this article are native to Missouri except for the henbit and dead nettle.