Mystery Plant

Linda Lee

This week’s Mystery Plant, which has bright green, egg-shaped leaves, is adding a touch of pink to a landscape that before long will start to feature goldenrods and asters.

“The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet.”

— William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 94”

Ah, the middle of summer: hot and sticky, soft, fragrant mornings, with roiling storms darkening the afternoon skies, drenching our backyards, and bringing on evening symphonies of katydids and cicadas.

It’s the time for sunscreen and bug repellent, and for plenty of fresh produce, iced tea, snow cones, lemonade and late sunsets. Maybe a final visit to the beach — or, better yet, the mountains. Although our summers generally feature less of the extravagant floral display we get in the spring, there are still plenty of flowers out there to keep an eager-beaver botanist busy.

This plant is one of about 20 fairly closely related species in the gentian family; these grow in Canada, the eastern U.S. and the western Caribbean. They include both annual and perennial species, all with opposite leaves.

The flowers in the genus tend to be very showy; thus, they are popular on wildflower walks. Each flower has a green calyx with a short tube and five elongated lobes. The corollas are similarly equipped with a short tube, and then a number of very attractive lobes, which most people just refer to as “petals,” and, depending on the species, these lobes may be white, pink or purple. Most species have five corolla lobes, while other species have 10 or 12.

After pollination, the ovary swells into a tidy capsule, eventually drying and releasing a number of tiny seeds. These various species grow in a wide variety of environments, especially forests and meadows, but there are some that like to grow in damp cypress savannas, or even brackish or salt marshes along the coast.

They all love the summer, blooming like crazy until fall begins its steady, slow approach.

These plants often lend themselves to cultivation, and gardeners will be interested in knowing that various species within this group are available on the market. Some of them really make a fine display as a member of a native-species garden.

This particular species is a member of the group that has five corolla lobes, and they are pink. The flowers are slightly fragrant, and about an inch across, maybe a bit wider. At the base of each lobe is a small yellow or green blotch, with an outer red margin. The effect with all the five lobes is that of a central spot (or “eye”) that really makes the flowers pretty, with the five yellow stamens and an elongated greenish pistil.

This species gets to be a couple of feet tall, and it sports bright green, egg-shaped leaves. Each leaf has a somewhat rounded base which lightly embraces or “clasps” the stem. The stems exhibit narrow little wings of tissue between the nodes, at least toward the bottom of the plant.

These plants grow practically throughout the Southeast. They can be seen in fields and roadsides, or power line rights of way, usually preferring plenty of sun. You might be seeing them now in your area, adding a touch of pink to a landscape that before long will start to feature goldenrods and asters.

Answer: “Bitter-bloom,” “Rose-gentian,” Sabatia angularis.

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