Sunday, November 15, 2009

Carolina grass-of-Parnassus - Parnassia caroliniana

There are two species in this genus and I have wanted to see them in bloom for a good number of years.  Thanks to Gil Nelson, Alexa and I were introduced to both recently in the Apalachicola National Forest.  Regrettably, we were a few days too early to catch Carolina grass-of-parnassus (Parnassia caroliniana) fully opened.
Grass-of-Parnassus are plants of  open and seasonally wet savannahs, and occur with various pitcher plants, sundews, Chapman's aster and the like.  They require high sunlight and lots of moisture to persist and flower, but under these conditions there is nothing that compares to them.
Carolina grass-of-Parnassus is similar to the somewhat more robust large-leaved grass-of-Parnassus (P. grandifolia), except its flowers do not have the distinct green "netting" on the inside of the petals and the ovary is whitish instead of green.
These plants spend much of the growing season as a rosette of rounded basal leaves, but in mid-October through November their 3-foot tall flower stalk, adorned with their brilliant white blooms, can be seen for some distance.
These are never plants likely to be offered commercially - and they are too difficult anyway for all but the most advanced gardener.  They are worth a trip, however, to see them in the wild.  If you do so, just be careful not to trample them.  See them from a short distance and allow them their space so they can persist and prosper.

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