Thursday, May 1, 2014

Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)

Living in southeastern Ohio for the last handful of years has really allowed your blogger the opportunity to explore and familiarize himself with a landscape quite different from his childhood base of west-central Ohio.  As an adopted son of the hills and hollers, I feel just as at home immersed in the unglaciated Allegheny Plateau as I do back on the Wisconsin till plains.  The scenery and flora/fauna has yet to grow old or stale and still has plenty of surprises and welcome discoveries to share.

Hillside patch of green-and-gold in full bloom

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of finally making the acquaintance of a southeast Ohio exclusive that has sat unchecked on the life list since my initial move to the region.  Green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) is also known by the common names of golden knees or goldenstar and is one of the most striking yellow wildflowers I've had the pleasure of seeing with my own eyes.

Green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)

Green-and-gold is a state-threatened species here in Ohio and is only known from extant populations in Athens and Washington counties.  This particular population was located in rural Washington county near the Ohio River on a steep roadside embankment under a canopy of white oak, red oak, sugar maple, yellow buckeye, white ash, flowering dogwood, and redbud with a scattering of your typical spring ephemerals.

Closer look at the green-and-gold's flowers

If you take a close look at the center of the "flower" expecting to see a pistil and flurry of stamens, you will actually see a composite flower head with numerous disc flowers exerting their own individual stigmas and anthers. Despite appearing as a marsh marigold-like plant from a distance, green-and-gold is actually a spring-blooming member of the aster or composite family (Asteraceae).  It also happens to be the only Ohio composite containing (typically) five yellow ray flowers.

Green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)

Some may recognize this as a plant they have in their landscaping or wildflower garden as it is a popular and frequently used ground-cover for its ability to spread rather quickly by rhizomes.  It does best when you can imitate its favored conditions in the wild of moist, rich, and acidic soils in partial to full shade.

Chrysogonum virginianum North American distribution (courtesy BONAP)

Looking at a map of its natural distribution throughout eastern North America, you can see it just barely makes it into our state via the southeast.  It occurs predominately east of the Appalachians in the Piedmont and along the coastal plains of the Atlantic and Gulf states.  The species has been assigned two varieties split by a more northern or southern distribution.  Following this treatment, Ohio's material belongs to var. virginianum while the southern Piedmont and coastal plains belongs to var. australe.

Zoomed in view of receptacle and disc flowers
View of the attractive, hairy green foliage

A macro shot shows the details of the aster family's characteristic receptacle and numerous disc flowers in the photograph above left.  What look like petals on a composite flower are actually called ray flowers and bear fertile reproductive parts as well. The basal leaves of green-and-gold have an aesthetic appeal of their own with densely fuzzy petioles and crinkled margins.  I can easily see and understand why this plant would be a welcome addition in anyone's landscaping and hope to utilize it someday in the future myself.

Hillside patch of green-and-gold in full bloom

While photographing and admiring the golden-knees, I found myself frequently pausing to close my eyes and soak in the surrounding sounds of the back country road's environment.  The swift sounds of rushing water in a nearby rain-swollen stream were intermittently interrupted with the sweet calls of dueling cerulean warblers overhead accented with American redstarts, hooded warblers, and wood thrush as well.  I even managed to get my year's first ruby-throated hummingbird as two tiny blurs gave an unmistakable chitter as they buzzed by.

Hillside patch of green-and-gold in full bloom

While many plants may find a roadside existence to be stressful and worrisome, I believe it may be a saving grace for this specific population.  Competition from surrounding/taller vegetation and natural succession can choke out this species quite easily or at least reduce it to non-flowering vegetative material due to too much shade but seasonal cutting and mowing by the township or perhaps a local resident seems to keep this embankment relatively free and clear of encroaching woody vegetation.

The hillside of flowering green-and-gold proved to be worth the wait as I would be hard pressed to find another spring wildflower graced with such a rich golden color.  It's my hope this site will continue to see good fortune and be something I can return to in future springs to enjoy their enlightening charm.

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