Thursday, June 11, 2015

June 6, 2015... Never Expected to See This at Charleston Falls...An American Columbo

Jeanne and I were looking for flowers on our morning walk at Charleston Falls and not finding many.  It's past the ephemeral flowers season and not yet the showy prairie flowers season.

But then we found this on the prairie.

Photo by Tom Persing

The plant that came to my mind was American Columbo ( Frasera caroliniensis)  but I had never seen one at Charleston Falls and didn't expect to see one.  The only one I had ever seen was years ago on a high ridge in a wooded area at Brukner Nature Center.  I didn't have a wildflower book with me so I wasn't about to name it.

Back home, I looked in three wildflower field guides and found American Columbo or Monument Plant  in the third one, Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. There was no mistaking the identification.  The size was right and the leaf arrangement was right.  It is found in open woods and meadows, the two places where I had seen it.

Now that I knew the name, I looked it up on the Internet.  There were good photos of the flowers which are distinctive.

I persuaded Tom to come see the plant the next day.

Photo by Tom Persing

Photo by Tom Persing

The heavily fringed lumps in the middle of each petal are called nectar pads.  I have never seen another flower with these pads.

I called a friend who I knew was interested in wildflowers.  She said she had seen American Columbo on farmland in the area.  Another flower lover told me she knew people who had it on property in Adams County. A third friend says that it blooms some years at Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm.  

Maybe American Columbo isn't as rare as I thought it was.  Still, the sighting was exciting to me.

One of the reasons I have seen it only  twice is that it lives as a rosette of leaves for five to fifteen years or more before finally flowering. According to one Internet source, it may live as a rosette for as many as thirty years before sending up its three to eight foot stalk.

Sources seem convinced that after it blooms, it dies.  So any flowering American Columbo that shows up in that same vicinity years down the road is a "new" plant.

Tom took this photo to show the height.

Photo by Tom Persing

An interesting note on one website was that American Columbos in the same area tend to bloom in the same year.  The supposition is that it must have exactly the right conditions to bloom and that if all of the plants bloom the same year there is a better chance that they will cross-pollinate.

This photo shows the thick red stem of the plant. When Tom and I returned the next day, the stem had turned a deeper red, almost magenta, but that color didn't show up well in the photos we took.

Photo by Pauline Persing

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