Sunday, January 1, 2012

Lilies for the New Year: Lilium catesbaei

While studying wild populations of Magnolia virginiana for my Master's degree, I was fortunate to discover many other plants that I had never seen before.  An almost constant companion of the Sweetbay was Lilium catesbaei.  Despite its lack of popularity among gardeners (perhaps owing to cultural quirks or a short life-span), there is something other-worldly and enchanting about this species; looking over the sprawling flats of wire grass (Aristida stricta), the flowers of the pine lily are widely scattered and appear to floating among the tousled, blowzy grasses.  My first encounter with this species was in late August 2008.  While driving a desolate stretch of road just East of Bayou la Batre, Alabama, I saw a tiny flash of orange and brought the car to a screeching halt.

The pine savannah along this stretch of road was in serious need of fire and we found only a single plant of Lilium catesbaei.  This solitary plant was growing in a ditch with Polygala lutea.  Awestruck, we studied this solitary plant for the better part of an hour.

On the same trip, but further east in Florida's fabled Apalachicola National Forest, we found this species again, growing as irregularly scattered, single stems dotting the wire grass flats.  The forms in this area had more narrow flower petals, giving the plants a spidery appearance.

This region of the Florida panhandle had just received over 15 inches of rain over the course of two days and everywhere I hiked was covered in standing water.  In this same area, we also found the rare pitcher plant, Sarracenia psittacina.

The 'lobster pot' traps of this species have the ability to trap insects when above and when submerged under water.  Good thing.

Also in the area where lush stands of Polygala cruciata.  This is an exceptionally beautiful plant that lends a purple-pink haze to the drifts of wire grass.  This species is one of the rarest angiosperms in Ohio and can only be found as very small populations in the Oak Openings region.  Also, the seeds of Polygala are among the most interesting to be seen, but in order to appreciate the details of it's anatomy, you will need a microscope.

In 2009 I travelled to the aptly named Green Swamp in Southeastern North Carolina.  Many rare and beautiful plants can be found in this well-known botanical area.

Lilium catesbaei could be found growing as scattered individuals in this area.

Lilium catesbaei is an almost constant companion of carnivorous plants and in this region, some of the most prized species can be found.

Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa can be found in abundance, but the Green Swamp is well known as be the last strong hold of the Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula)