The Dissolving Flower

It does seem that the most interesting stuff blooming at this time of year is found in wet places, like along the banks of the Potomac River. Almost all the plants I listed in Wednesday’s post were found within a few feet of the river, including Virginia dayflower.

Commelina communis (Asiatic dayflower)

Honestly Commelina virginica (Commelinaceae) is not the prettiest of flowers, but I’m always happy to find it, because it’s the native cousin of the more often seen Asiatic dayflower (C. communis). The two upper petals of this alien species are blue, often a more brilliant blue, while the third, lower petal is white.

Virginia dayflower is a coarse-textured plant with thick stems that stand as much as three feet tall, and thick, long, parallel-veined leaves arranged alternately. Flowers emerge from tight clusters of spathes at the tops of the stems.

close-up of C. virginica stem, showing characteristic fringed sheath

As you can see, the flower has three petals, which is typical of the Commelinaceae. Three-petal arrangements are not exactly unusual but they’re not too common, either (five, four, six, and many petals, like in the Asteraceae, are much more common).

Tradescantia virginiana

Two other native species in the Commelinaceae are found in this area. One is Tradescantia virginiana (spiderwort or spiderlily), pictured below. The other is C. erecta, another dayflower which I’ve never seen; like the alien species shown above it has a white lower petal, but there are other differences used to distinguish between the two species.

Virginia dayflower is found in the mid-Atlantic, the South, the lower Mid-West, and the eastern Great Plains. In Maryland it’s found mostly in the coastal plain. It’s extirpated in Pennsylvania.

Why “dayflower”? As you might suspect, it’s because each flower only lasts a day. According to the USDA Forest Service, the flower opens in the morning and then, rather than closing or fading and falling off, it deliquesces. Which I think is kinda neat. Makes me want to do a time-lapse of one so I can see it happening for myself. 

Flower of the Day: Virginia Spiderwort

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 aka spider lily

Tradescantia virginiana
Commelinaceae

 

 

 

More than two dozen species of Tradescantia grow in the US; most are natives, a few are alien.  Of these, only this one and T. ohiensis can be found in the Maryland Piedmont.  The plants stand two to three feet tall, and like moist soils and some shade.  The flowers open in the morning and close by early afternoon (maybe later on overcast days).  Each flower lasts only one day, but the plant can produce flowers over a period of a month or more.

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This is a nice plant for the garden, and there are many hybrids in the nursery trade. Remember, if you garden to benefit wildlife (bees and butterflies visit spiderwort), look for the species rather than cultivars, which are often not recognized by the wildlife you’re trying to attract.

Here are a few brief articles on the subject:
http://www.audubon.org/news/how-buy-native-plants
http://pollinatorgardens.org/
http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/plants/nativeplants/

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