Saturday, September 8, 2012

Smooth Yellow False Foxglove - Aureolaria flava

Smooth yellow false foxglove (Aureolaria flava) is found throughout much of the Panhandle and south along the western half of the peninsula to Hillsborough County.  It also occurs throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S and in Ontario.  Throughout this range, it occurs in sunny well-drained soils.
False foxgloves are members of the broomrape family, though at times they have been included in the snapdragon family. A look at their flowers and flower buds shows this relationship clearly.  Smooth false foxglove is a perennial (possibly a root parasite of other plants), vine-like forb whose stem may reach more than 3 feet in length. The sheer weight of this structure causes the stem to bend, and it is supported by nearby vegetation.  The leaves are shiny green, opposite on the stem, and oval with a pointed tip.  From a distance, these plants may look a bit like climbing yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), but that similarity is quickly lost when the plant is seen up close. 
Flowering occurs along the length of the stem in summer and early fall.  The flowers are nearly 3/4 inch in diameter and canary yellow in color.  Tubular in structure, they have 5 fused petals.  Their large size makes them most attractive to large pollinators - such as bumblebees.
Look for this plant in sandhills and open dry woodlands in early fall, but don't expect to find it offered for sale commercially. Its large size and growth habit make it a difficult plant to keep in a nursery setting and a tough sell to folks looking for wildflowers for a more traditional garden planting.  This species has been reported as one of the larval food plants for the beautiful Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly in New England, but it is not recorded for butterflies in Florida, like the common buckeye, that use other members of this family.  Perhaps they do and it simply has not been recorded yet.

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