Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carolina Yellow Spiny Pod - Matelea flavidula

Carolina spiny pod (Matelea flavidula) is an extremely rare plant in Florida; known only from three counties in extreme north Florida.  It occurs in deciduous bluff forest understories where it gets sunlight in the early spring and filtered sun for the rest of the growing season.  It is a weak-stemmed deciduous vine and, like other members of this genus, grows up and through adjacent vegetation.
Carolina spiny pod has heart-shaped leaves that occur opposite each other on the stem.  Each is about 1/2 inch wide and less than 1 inch long.  The edges of each are noticeably "hairy".  Flowering occurs in late spring.  The star-shaped flowers are lemon yellow and occur in clusters in the leaf axils.  Eventually, pollinated flowers ripen into small elongated and spiny pods. 
As a member of the milkweed family, Carolina spiny pod is used as a larval food plant by members of the milkweed butterfly family, but because it occurs in shady habitats, it is not visited to the same extent as other members which grow in sunnier areas. Carolina spiny pod is not a good choice for butterfly gardening enthusiasts.
This very rare plant is not likely to ever be offered for sale commercially and it has none of the aesthetics that might make it a likely candidate for the future.  It is an interesting species, nevertheless, and can be appreciated solely for that reason.  Plants like Carolina spiny pod, make Florida an amazing place for "botanizing" - look for it if you are in Gadsden, Washington, or Duval Counties in late spring - or in adjacent counties as well.  Because this plant is not always obvious, you may find it outside its known range and add to our knowledge of Florida's flora.

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