Arboretum: Southern Magnolia, Wildflowers, and Parasitic Plants

Can Southern magnolia trees survive in Boston? I thought not. Even the Arboretum’s own Bulletin of Popular Information, didn’t think so, saying in May of 1911 that Magnolia grandiflora is “not hardy at the north.” That changed in 1983, when a tree was planted behind the Visitor Center. More accessible, however, is a tree just off Meadow Road behind a red maple. Planted in 1998, this cultivar — Bracken’s Brown Beauty — is doing very well.

Southern magnolia flower
Southern magnolia flower (accession 278-98-A)

Tall plants with large, yellow, many-petaled flowers grow at the edge of the meadow. These are cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum), native plants in the sunflower family.

Cup plant flower
Cup plant flower

They get their name from the pairs of opposite leaves, which surround the stem, creating a cup that collects water during rainstorms.

Leaves of cup plant surround the stem
Leaves of cup plant

A few purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) plants are flowering at the edge of the meadow.

Purple loosestrife flower stalk
Purple loosestrife

Enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana or Circaea canadensis) is widespread here and currently in both flower and fruit. The plant is native; a subspecies can also be found in Eurasia. The flower has two petals, each so deeply split that they appear as four petals.

Enchanter's nightshade flowers
Enchanter’s nightshade flowers

Further down the flower stalk, fruits are appearing. Each of these small green fruits is covered with hooked bristles so it can stick to a passing animal and be carried elsewhere. These fruits easily stick to clothing; you may emerge from the Arboretum enchanted.

Enchanter's nightshade fruit
Enchanter’s nightshade fruit

I saw an eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) dash away near the maple collection.

Eastern cottontail rabbit
Eastern cottontail rabbit

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is now in flower. These plants with large, smooth leaves can at first be mistaken for milkweed. But the leaves of these plants have an alternate arrangement unlike the opposite arrangement of milkweed. This native plant feeds a lot of wildlife, but all parts are poisonous to humans.

American pokeweed
American pokeweed

Pokeweed has a long flower stalk with many small flowers bearing five white petals that look like they surround a green vegetable.

Pokeweed flowers
Pokeweed flowers

Small leafless stalks topped with yellow flowers were poking out of the ponds. I couldn’t get close enough to identify this plant to species, but I believe it is a type of bladderwort (Utricularia sp.).

Bladderwort flower stalks

I found a few native plants with showy flowers growing next to the ponds. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) has a white flower-ball dotted with needle-like pistils.

Buttonbush flower

Swamp rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) has thin sepals that cradle each bud and large, pink flowers.

Swamp rose-mallow flower
Swamp rose-mallow

Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium sp.) has flower stalks that look like swamp milkweed when in bud, but the flowers have very skinny petals.

Joe-pye weed flowers
Joe-pye weed

I noticed yellow and orange vines twining around the Joe-pye weed. I looked around to find the leaves of this vine and didn’t see any.

Dodder climbing Joe-pye weed
Dodder climbing Joe-pye weed

This is the parasitic vine dodder (Cuscuta sp.). Dodder starts out life with roots, but these supply the plant with food for only ten days. It has to then find a host plant, which it penetrates and sucks out nutrients. And you thought the grisly stuff was reserved for insect posts!

Mass of dodder
Mass of dodder vines
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