Sunday, March 10, 2024

Yellow Fumewort - Corydalis flavula

Yellow fumewort (Corydalis flavula) is an annual wildflower found in only three Florida counties (Jackson, Calhoun, and Liberty) in the central Panhandle.  It is widely distributed north of us, however, and is vouchered from the eastern Great Plains to the east coast north to New York and Massachusetts.  Throughout its wide distribution, it is most commonly found in open, deciduous woodlands in moist, but well-drained soil.  

This is a winter annual, meaning that it sets seed in the summer and reappears in winter or very early spring.  It requires the heat of summer to induce seed germination - unlike many species that require cold stratification.  This is a rather diminutive plant that might be overlooked when not in flower.  At maturity, it only reaches a height of 12 inches, though the flower stalks may stand a few inches taller.  Its distinctive foliage is easily discerned by a watchful eye, however.  Each leaf is palmately veined with deeply dissected lobes.  In Florida, I know of no other wildfower that is similar, though if you live or have lived north of here, the foliage is similar to that of Durchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). The leaves occur on pinkish stems and lie mostly horizontal to the ground.  

Flowering occurs in the late winter to early spring. The flowers are bright lemon yellow in color with green markings along the interior edge of the petals,  They occur in clusters at the end of the flower stalks. The upper petals are fused while the lower petal extends outward and down -reminiscent of many flowers in the mint family though yellow fumewort is in the Papaveraceae.  There is a small spur at the back of each bloom. Once the blooms are finished, it produces long reddish brown seed pods that eventually dehisce and scatter the tiny black seeds. Given the shape of its flowers, I suspect it is mostly pollinated by bees. 

As an annual, this is a species that requires the right soil conditions to reseed or the help of a human cultivator to collect its seed and give it the right conditions to germinate and be replanted.  All of this makes it a wildflower poorly suited to most home landscapes and it has never been offered for sale by native nurseires in Florida associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It is available, however, from several nurseries to our north - as plants or seed. An Asian relative, (Corydalis yanhusuo) has been used as an herbal supplement to support cardiovascular and digestive systems, but I have found no evidence of our native species having any medicinal value. 

These wonderful photos were takn by Steve Coleman and used by permission.

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