Wild Flowers of North Carolina

Wild Flowers of North Carolina

by William S. Justice

ISBN: 9780807855973

Publisher The University of North Carolina Press

Published in Calendars/Flowers, Calendars/Nature

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Many of the world's wild flowers are fast disappearing as habitat destruction accelerates with exponential human population growth. There is, however, cause for hope that we may be able to halt or reverse this trend. Awareness is the first step. Our goal in this presentation of 500 native or naturalized plants in North Carolina is to open eyes, minds, and hearts to the story of the state's wild flowers, their beauty, their interesting attributes, their uses, and, in many cases, their plight. We hope that by stimulating a greater interest in this beautiful and unique natural resource we will also increase awareness of the need for, and value of, its preservation. Anyone who takes the time to get to know and appreciate even one of our wild flowers helps to preserve them.

Since the publication of the first edition of Wild Flowers of North Carolina in 1968, four major developments have changed the landscape for plant conservation. The first of these is a growing awareness of the importance of species diversity, habitat conservation, and the need to mitigate for the harm done by development, as exemplified in passage of the Endangered Species Act. Second is an increased interest in growing native plants that are well adapted to the climates and soils in which they grow and better able to survive local variations in rainfall or temperature. Third, as a direct consequence of the first two developments, recent years have seen the advent of true native plant nurseries-nurseries that supply gardeners' and landscapers' demand for native plants by propagating them from seeds, cuttings, or tissue culture in the nursery rather than collecting plants in the wild. Finally, there has been a renewed interest in the indigenous use of native plants for medicine. Exploration of this "green pharmacy" has led to the development of modern medicines as well as an increase in the use of traditional herbal remedies.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 began a concerted effort to protect some of our rarest plants. In 1974 The Nature Conservancy helped to establish the first state natural heritage program, a program that now exists in all 50 states. The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program is administered by the Office of Conservation and Community Affairs within the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The program inventories, catalogues, and facilitates protection of the rarest and the most outstanding elements of the natural diversity of our state. Legal protection and categorization of rare plants falls to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Plant Conservation Program formed under the Plant Protection and Conservation Act of 1979. This program has responsibility for the legal protection of plants in three categories (endangered, threatened, or of special concern), enforces regulations and issues permits concerning state-listed plant species, monitors and manages populations of listed species, provides educational materials to the public, and monitors trade in American Ginseng. A list of state and national conservation organizations is provided in Table 1.

If given a place to grow, with adequate light, water, and soil conditions, many of the 3,500 or more native plants that once formed what B. W. Wells called the "natural gardens of North Carolina" can be as colorful and interestingas the "usual horticultural suspects," if not more so. The North Carolina Botanical Garden initiated the very important concept of "conservation through propagation" in 1978, promoting "appropriate" propagation of native plants for use in the horticultural trade. Its "plant of the year" program has introduced 20 native plant species into the trade, and native plant nurseries that propagate rather than collect the plants they sell are now abundant in North Carolina and the rest of the country.

Alternative medicine is increasingly being incorporated into modern Western medicine, leading to a burgeoning interest in native plants for their medicinal potential. The use of plants in medicine was commonplace until the mid-nineteenth century, when the promise of chemistry and technology led to the rejection of homeopathic remedies for a variety of illnesses. Now the plants that were used by Native Americans and by early colonists, who often brought plants with them for their medicinal needs, are again the object of study. A growing number of plants have recently been found to have modern medical uses, among them Mayapple (for combating testicular cancer), Wild Yam (for the production of steroid drugs), and Bloodroot (as a source for the plaque-fighting sanguinarine). There is great promise for more such discoveries. Herbal remedies newly catalogued can be found in Dr. James Duke's Green Pharmacy (see References).

Another important change that has taken place over the past 30 years is the revision of the scientific names given to some of the species of wild flowers found in North Carolina. In some cases, plants previously considered as two separate species have been combined into one; in other cases, a species that was once viewed as a single entity has been divided into two species. Most often, close studies of plant groups has revealed that they need to be placed in different genera with new names. Appendix 3 lists all nomenclatural changes relevant to the wild flowers of North Carolina that have occurred since this book's original publication.


In the limited space available for the text material associated with each of the 500 plants illustrated, an attempt has been made to cover the following specific items of pertinent information in a relatively uniform sequence and format most useful to the person interested in the flowering plants of North Carolina and the surrounding regions:

1. common name

2. scientific name

3. whether the plant is native or introduced

4. size perspective

5. general comments on interesting aspects of the plant

6. frequency, especially if very rare or very common

7. habitat

8. range in North Carolina

9. general range in the United States

10. months in bloom in our area

11. index reference number from the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas

12. key character summary code

13. cultivation, medicinal, poisonous, and plant status codes

Since each of the brief entries is independent of the others, and since each entry can be read in only a few seconds, the information concerning items 3 through 9 will not always be in the exact sequence given above, varying as seems appropriate for easy reading-and for what is visually evident (e.g., flower color) in the photograph. Some comments concerning the application of each piece of information are given, by category, in the following paragraphs.

Common Name

If a native plant of North America had any resemblance to one in Europe, the early colonists often applied the European common name to the New World plant even though the two may have been completely unrelated botanically. Depending upon the country or area of origin of the colonists, one particular plant might have several common names in different parts of this country. Or a given plant might have two or more common names in a single area because of different aspects of its appearance or use: thus the attraction of the colorful flowers of Asclepias tuberosa for butterflies accounts for the common name "Butterfly Weed," while an old medicinal use accounts for the common name "Pleurisy-Root." On the other hand, a single name might be applied to a number of different plants: the common name "Buttercup," for example, has been given to plants belonging to several of the yellow-flowered species of Ranunculus (in the family Ranunculaceae) and also to several species of the completely unrelated genus Narcissus (in the family Amaryllidaceae). Common names are sometimes easier to remember than the scientific name but they are certainly not exact! Furthermore, many common names are the same as the generic name or the first part of the scientific name, such as Rhododendron, Iris, Trillium, Magnolia, Sassafras, and Oxalis, and no one ever thinks of these names as being too hard to learn.

Scientific Name

The scientific name of a plant consists of two Latin or latinized words, a genus or generic name followed by a species name or specific epithet. By international agreement on the rules governing the formation of scientific names of plants, no two kinds may have the same name; thus every kind of plant has a different combination of generic name and specific epithet. Although a specific epithet may be repeated from one genus to the next (e.g., Magnolia virginiana for Sweet Bay and Fragaria virginiana for the Wild Strawberry), the generic names are different and indicate that the plants are different-in this case they even belong to different plant families, the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) and the Rose family (Rosaceae) respectively.

In cases where one plant has been given different scientific names by different botanists, the variance can be explained in one of two ways. Since 1930 considerable agreement has been reached, on an international level, concerning the rules for naming plants. Although aimed at ultimate stability, the new international rules have necessitated many changes in names that were used by botanists in this country for the 200 years before 1930-when many of our native plants were first discovered and named. Those earlier names that have been replaced are now officially invalid. Another situation, involving botanical opinion rather than rules, often occurs if a species is quite variable or is poorly known. Under such conditions, different acceptable botanical interpretations of the presumed relationships result in two concepts and thus two names. Further taxonomic research might shed more light on the patterns of plant variation and relationship and ultimately resolve the problem. Even so, botanical names are far more uniform and stable, the world over, than common names, and therefore they are given here, as are the scientific family names, to aid those who might wish to search further for information on a particular plant species of special interest.

The scientific name is followed by the name of the botanist who first described and classified the plant. This latter item may be either a name or an abbreviation and may consist of one or two names, the first of which is then in parentheses. This indicates that a second botanist brought about some change in the status of the botanical name after it was first applied by the original author, whose name then appears in the parentheses. These author, or authority, names are important to botanists as bibliographic references. For example, "Walter" after a plant name indicates that the plant was named by Thomas Walter, whose classic Flora Caroliniana was published in 1788. In a similar way, "Linnaeus" or "L." after a plant name indicates that the plant was named by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who first published many plant names and descriptions in his Species Plantarum in 1753. The large number of our plants first described by Linnaeus (1707-78), William Bartram (1739-1823) of Pennsylvania, Thomas Walter (1740-89) of South Carolina, and the French botanist-explorer Andri Michaux (1746-1802) reflects the extensive early botanical exploration of eastern North America in general and of the Carolinas in particular.

Native vs. Introduced

In most cases the botanical literature is complete enough to show which plants now growing in our area without cultivation are truly native and which have been introduced from other areas, chiefly Europe. This information is given, in either direct or indirect form, for each species. It is often coupled with information on the life span of the plant: whether it is annual and lives only one year or one season, biennial and lives for two years (usually blooming the second year, when it then sets seeds and dies), or perennial and lives for three or more years. Recent emphasis has been paid to the widespread destructive effect of exotic invasives, those introduced nonnative species, often perennials, that aggressively overtake natural habitats and displace native plants. Invasive plants are identified in the text.

Scale or Plant Size

In each entry, reference is made to the size of the entire plant, or to some specific part, in order to give an idea of the scale of the picture and to aid in identification of the plant. These measurements are helpful, and sometimes critical, in identification because similar and closely related species may differ only in some aspect of size. As is now usual in botanical references, and indeed in scientific fields worldwide, all measurements are given in metric units. This decimal-based international system measures from 1//1000 of a meter (a millimeter) to 1//100 of a meter (a centimeter) to 1//10 of a meter (a decimeter) to a meter itself and allows for much greater flexibility and accuracy than is possible in the English system. However, to help picture the actual size and to assist with the conversion from English to metric, a decimeter rule, marked in millimeters, is provided at the front and back of the book. To make the switch to metric, there are four ready references to keep in mind: a millimeter (mm) is approximately the thickness of a penny; 2.5 centimeters (cm), or 25 mm, are approximately 1 inch; a decimeter (dm), or 10 cm, is approximately 4 inches; a meter (m), or 10 dm, is just a bit more than 3 feet. The sources for size information for each species are the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas and the Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada (see References).

General Comments

We include brief comments on matters of particular interest, as appropriate for the plants illustrated. These may touch on the medicinal or other uses made of the species, horticultural information, and interesting biological facts such as what pollinates the flowers or distributes the seed. Comments are also made regarding other closely related, and often similar, species found in North Carolina.


Information on frequency (common, frequent, rare), though subjective and difficult to apply in many particular cases, is nonetheless included as a relative guide. This knowledge is of particular importance in respect to our rare native plants that are in danger of becoming extinct. As relevant, plant status (whether it is edangered, etc.) is also indicated by a code in the last line of the entry (see below).


Usually each of our native wild flowers grows only in the particular habitat or range of habitats to which it is adapted.


Excerpted from "Wild Flowers of North Carolina" by William S. Justice. Copyright © 2005 by William S. Justice. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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