Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sampson's Snakeroot - Orbexilum pedunculatum/Orbexilum psoralioides

Sampson's snakeroot (Orbexilum pedunculatum) is split into two species by some taxonomists.  Plants that are eglandular are sometimes considered to be O. psoralioides while others with glands are referred to as O. pedunculatum.  For the purposes of this blog, I will lump them.  Sampson's snakeroot occurs in open pinelands and woodlands with well-drained soil and prefers partial shade. It occurs in a cluster of Florida counties in the central Panhandle as well as Holmes and Clay Counties - also in extreme north Florida. It is widely distributed outside of Florida, however, and is reported throughout the Southeast and Midwestern states.

Like its close relative, O. lupinellus, which I've recently written about, Sampson's snakeroot is a perennial wildflower in the legume family. It is easily distinguished from its close cousin by the shape of its compound leaves. Unlike the wiry looking palmately compound foliage of O. lupinellus, the leaves of Sampson's snakeroot are 3-parted and each of the leaflets is elliptical and decidedly pointed. It dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges again in early spring - eventually reaching a mature height of 2-3 feet on thin stems.  

During much of the year, it is difficult to see in the understory, but this changes with the appearance of its rich purple blooms. Flowering is most common from late May into early July.  Dense clusters, 1-2 inches long, are borne on terminal spikes.  Each flower is marked by deeper purple streaks in the throat.  Although I do not have personal experience watching this plant in nature, it is likely pollinated by bees - much the same way that most legumes are.

Despite its beautiful flowers and interesting foliage, I am not aware of any native plant nursery associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, offering it for sale. It is reported as being available by nurseries outside of Florida within its extended natural range, however. How such plants would fare in Florida is anyone's guess. If you have experience, I welcome you to share it in the comments for this species. 

These photos were taken by my friend, Lily Byrd, and used by permission.

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