Giant chickweed

Caryophyllaceae (Pink family)

Description: An erect, weak-stemmed perennial 4-16 in. tall with opposite, mostly lanceolate leaves. Numerous white star-like flowers with 5 petals so deeply cleft as to appear to be 10. Fruit an ovoid capsule containing many small seeds. Flowers Apr.-June.

Habitat/range: Moist forests, including river bluff forests, alluvial forests, cove forests, and basic mesic forests. Common. Eastern United States.

Taxonomy: A genus of about 120 species centered in Asia but nearly worldwide in distribution, with 7 species in the mountains and piedmont. Common chickweed (S. media), an introduced, weedy species commonly found in lawns and gardens, is similar but has smaller leaves and flowers and weaker stems.

Ecology: Giant chickweed has an unusual growth pattern, with short, relatively small-leaved, flowering shoots produced in spring replaced by taller shoots with larger, thicker leaves in summer. The taller shoots persist until the aboveground plant dies back in autumn. New shoots arise the following spring from dormant underground buds. A poor competitor, giant chickweed tends to be restricted to more open areas on the forest floor. The conspicuous flowers produce both nectar and pollen and are pollinated by small bees and flies. For the first 1-3 days, upright anthers release pollen and the flowers are functionally male. The stigma then enlarges and becomes receptive (resulting in a functionally female flower), while the stamens reflex outward, resting on the petals. The spatial and temporal separation of anthers and stigmas prevents automatic self-pollination, but self-fertilized seeds can result if an insect pollinator transfers pollen between flowers on the same plant. Because pollinators typically visit flowers on multiple plants, a mix of self-and cross-fertilized seeds is produced.

Wildlife: Songbirds actively feed on the seeds, hence the common name "chickweed."

Uses: Makes a nice addition to woodland wildflower gardens due to its abundant flowers and attractive foliage.

Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex Nutt.

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