Today “Elizabeth’s Wildflower Blog” is really “Elizabeth’s Native Plant Blog”, because although Chelone glabra is common and found almost everywhere in Maryland, I’ve never seen it in the wild. These photos are of a specimen in my garden.
Also known as white turtlehead, this plant is in the Plantaginaceae, or plantain family. Older sources and many on-line sources place it in the Scrophulariaceae, but that family was gutted by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group.
The plants stand two to three feet tall, often with a single central stem but sometimes with a branch or two. As you can see, pruning (by rabbits, darn them) seems to encourage branching. The flowers are borne on terminal spikes, and have two petals, the upper one forming a hood over the lower one, which sometimes has two or three faint lobes.
White turtlehead like wet soils in open woodlands, and ranges east of the Mississippi River from the upper South northwards into Canada; west of the Mississippi it’s found in parts of Missouri and Minnesota. It’s listed as exploitably vulnerable in New York.
Not only have I never seen this plant in the wild, I’ve also never seen a Baltimore checkerspot. I had hoped to, because white turtlehead is their host plant. Fortunately turtlehead also attracts bumblebees. They crawl all the way up into the flower and stay for a minute or more. You can’t even tell there’s a bee in a flower except for the shaking that happens as the bee does its thing.
Hummingbirds have visited my white turtleheads (when they are already in the vicinity to sip from cardinal flowers).
Thanks for your wonderful blog!
I’ll have to keep watching, then – I would love to see a hummingbird!