Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Moss Phlox, Phlox subulata, in Delaware Co. OH

Who doesn't get excited about Moss Phlox in the spring.  In the Midwest, and through the temperate world, frankly, it's one of the signature plants of early spring, forming characteristic carpets of flowers in various shades of pink, lavender, coral, and white.  When a plant is so widely cultivated, it's easy to lose track of their origin.  Sometimes plants that are common in cultivation are rare in the wild, so the whole situation begs several questions: "Why would a plant that is rare in the wild be so adaptable and commonplace in gardens and landscapes?" or even, "Did garden cultivars originate as wild plants or were they selected from gardens or the products of hybridization?"  The list goes on.  Questions like this can have exciting answers, but unfortunately, we do not know many of these answers.  I like to think about things like this.  I also like to find these common garden plants in the wild and study them closely.

I recently "rediscovered" a population of moss phlox (Phlox subulata) in Delaware Co. OH.  This is a natural population of this species with herbarium specimens dating back over 130 years.  This is a unique part of the county, referred to on old vouchers as 'Red Hills'.  These aren't  quite like the red hills in McCreary Co. Kentucky or central Alabama, but if you squint when you look at the cliff line in the first couple of pictures, you can see what the early botanists were talking about when they mentioned this.

Can you see the Phlox?

Now can you see the Phlox?

The shiny green mats of Phlox subulata, the moss phlox.  It would have been a hell of a lot easier to see these if they were in flower (flowers are reported as ranging from pink to white in this population).  The largest, fullest plants can be found at the edge of the cliff.  

Phlox subulata and an Antennaria species putting forth their best effort to control erosion.  On the top of cliff, the plants could be found in a slightly different setting.

The open, oak woods, composed mainly of stunted Quercus rubra had many interesting plants growing in the understory, but the most interesting to me were the thin, straggling stems of Phlox subulata winding their way throughout the forest.  I can't wait to see these plants in flower next spring!

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