Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ruellia by the Roadside

We continue with our roadside wildflower theme this week, featuring another native wildflower that is new to Hoot Owl Karma, as well as a couple of familiar faces.
The newcomer is a North Carolina native, Ruellia caroliniensis, and we were fortunate to stumble upon a healthy little colony beside a rural byway in Lee County this week. 

Commonly known as Carolina wild petunia, Ruellia's blossoms do bear a superficial resemblance to the familiar petunia of garden and hanging basket fame, but it is not in the same family.

We found these examples hanging out on an un-mowed rural roadside in the company of the very familiar common orange daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, or ditch lily. 

Whether you're a fan of this ubiquitous ditch dweller or not, it's hard to deny the appeal of its strikingly beautiful blossoms. This Asian transplant, which has been beautifying American gardens and barnyards and ditches for centuries now, has become thoroughly naturalized and is one of the dominant roadside "wildflowers" throughout the South.

Both shoulders of this particular stretch of road fall away steeply to a culvert, through which flows a small stream, and lush plant growth abounds on both sides.

And our new friend Ruellia is seemingly everywhere, its bold lavender blooms rising above the surrounding ground cover of poison ivy, and Virginia creeper and trumpet vine; singly, and in pairs and in double pairs, they more than hold their own among the showy daylilies. 

Another wildflower (or weed, depending on your perspective) is abundant here as well. The horse nettle, Solanum carolinense, commonly referred to as wild tomato, or devil's tomato.

This "nettle" is not a true nettle, but is a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, which includes a number of well-known poisonous plants as well as a significant number of economically important plants, such as the potato, tomato and eggplant. 

Interestingly, family Solanaceae is also home to the domesticated petunia of our gardens, so in spite of the Carolina wild petunia's common name and superficial resemblance, these prickly weeds are actually more closely related to the cultivated petunia than our friend Ruellia.

A closer look reveals why horse nettle is so despised by gardeners. Anyone who's attempted to pull one of these plants by hand without the protection of gloves can attest to the sharpness of these spines as well as how easily they break off once they've penetrated the flesh of your hand.  

Later this summer, the blossoms will give way to small tomato-like fruit which are poisonous if ingested, along with all the parts of this plant.

Well, it's time to move on down the road for now, but perhaps we'll check back in a few weeks to see if anyone new is hanging out with our friend Ruellia.

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