Wildflowers and Shrubs
"For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy."
Wendell Berry, 2012 Jefferson Lecture
"Plant life at Hurricane Creek" by Sam Curren
Kalmia latifolia L.
An evergreen shrub which blooms in profusion along the rocky banks of Hurricane Creek during mid to late spring and early summer. A frequent component of oak-heath forests, the mountain laurel is a last-resort food for gypsy-moth caterpillars. It is also poisonous to horses, goats, cattle, sheep, deer, and monkeys and humans. The green parts of the plant, flowers, twigs, and pollen are all toxic, including food products made from them, like honey. Experienced herbalists know how to use this plant effectively for medicinal purposes.
The mountain laurel is also known locally as "calico bush" due to its intricate dotted patterns. The stamens of the flowers have an odd, springlike mechanism which spreads pollen when tripped by a bee. The wood has been used for tool handles and turnery, and the burls, or hard knotlike growths, for briar tobacco pipes. Though the majority of vegetation along the downstream creek cliffs was destroyed by the 2011 tornado, this year, the mountain laurel crowned the cliffs and was the star of the show. How the tornado affected local plant populations along Hurricane Creek is still an open question- though it seems to have been resolved in the case of the mountain laurel, who plans to stick around for a long time. Learn more from the USDA's plant profile.
The sweet shrub is a 6-12 foot deciduous shrub that grows in the woodlands surrounding the creek. The Eastern Sweetshrub is a native shrub that reaches 6 to 9 feet in height. The highly fragrant twigs, leaves, and flowers give rise to another common name of Carolina allspice. The flowers are deep red to maroon, and last a month or more. Some varieties may produce orange to yellow flowers. Urn-shaped fruits are formed in the summer, and the fall foliage is a light to bright yellow.
Sweetshrub is native to the eastern United States. Its highly aromatic flower was once prized by ladies who tucked it into their blouses for perfume. Dark, reddish brown to wine-red flowers open in April to May, with occasional scattered flowers appearing during summer. They are 1 to 2 inches wide, shaped somewhat like magnolia blossoms, and are produced abundantly. Leaves become yellow in fall but are usually not showy.
Calycanthus floridus is very resistant to disease and insect problems. It has a prolific suckering habit, adapts to many soils, and grows taller in shaded places. This plant is not edible, though it can be dried for potpourri. Learn more from the Clemson County Extension plant profile.
The Oakleaf hydrangea is one of the few hydrangeas native to the United States, though it is frequently cultivated for its bountiful blooms. The Oakleaf gets its name from the shape of its beautiful large leaves. These leaves often turn colors of brilliant red, orange, yellow and burgundy in the fall if planted in a sunny location with a little afternoon shade.
It grows in mixed hardwood forests, along streams and on forested hillsides, usually on calcareous soils, and often where limestone is at the ground surface. Oakleaf hydrangea is an understory shrub, often in the shade of large oaks, hickories, magnolias, American beech, and the like.
The oakleaf hydrangea has opposite, simple, deciduous leaves with 3 to 7 lobes per leaf and serrated edging. The overall oak-like leaf shape is intriguing. Oakleaf hydrangea sends up shoots from underground stolons and often grows in colonies. During the peak bloom period of July, this plant displays upright pyramidal clusters of white flowers with 10" long panicles. As flowers age, they turn pinkish in late summer and tan in the autumn. Certain parts of the plant are poisonous, although deer seem to have no problem feasting upon oak leaf hydrangea.
A member of the hydrangea family, mock orange is a deciduous large flowering shrub which grows between six and twelve ft. tall. It has a globular, multiple-stemmed shape with upright branching. It arches with age, and looks beautiful as it hovers above the stream water.
The older bark is orange-brown and exfoliating. Despite its name, the "scentless mock orange" boasts large, white lightly-scented flowers, usually in clusters of three. The flowers have four, showy, cup-shaped petals and between 60 and 90 stamens Mock-oranges are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the Engrailed (Ectropis crepuscularia).
Rhododendron alabamense Rheder
This is a rare native species first described by Tuscaloosa botanist Roland Harper. It blooms profusely up and down the creek, displaying its snowy white flowers, each with a prominent yellow blotch. Possibly the most fragrant native azalea. Alabama azalea thrives in well-drained soil and shady spots along the stream banks. As a native plant, it only grows in 5 states and is named for our state.
The Alabama azalea grows like a shrub. Most garden varieties and cultivated alabamense lack the vivid pink which catches the eye in this photo taken at Hurricane Creek by John Wathen. This plant also packs a charming and powerful, lemon-citrus fragrance.
Witch hazel is a is a small shrub, about 10 to 15 feet tall, native to North America. The flowers are bright yellow and the fruits encapsulated. The large, crooked, spreading branches form an irregular, open crown. The floral display of witch hazel is unique. Its fragrant, yellow flowers with strap-like, crumpled petals appear in the fall, persisting for some time after leaf drop. Lettuce-green, deciduous leaves maintain a rich consistency into fall when they turn brilliant gold. It adds to the splendid creekside fall foliage by blooming in fall and winter.
Witch hazel is used by herbalists as an effective herbal remedy against hemorrhoids and for the treatment of skin disorders, this mainly due to its astringent properties. These astringent properties are a result of the tannins contained in its bark and leaves. Native Americans used witch hazel leaves and bark to prepare teas against fever and coughs. A myth of witchcraft held that a forked branch of Witch-hazel could be used to locate underground water, hence the name "witch hazel".
Also known as the Spotted Geranium, Wood Geranium, or Wild Geranium, Alum Root, Alum Bloom, Dovefoot, American Kino Root, and Old Maid's Nightcap, the wild geranium grows in dry to moist woods and is normally abundant when found. It is a perennial herbaceous plant growing to 60 cm tall, producing upright usually unbranched stems and flowers in spring to early summer. The leaves are palmately lobed with five or seven deeply cut lobes.
Flowers appear from April to June in loose clusters of two to five at the top of the stems. The fruit capsule, which springs open when ripe, consists of five cells each containing one seed joined to a long beak-like column 2–3 cm long (resembling a crane's bill) produced from the center of the old flower.
The rhizome is long, and 5 to 10 cm thick, with numerous branches. The rhizomes are covered with scars, showing the remains of stems of previous years growth. When dry it has a somewhat purplish color internally. Plants go dormant in early summer after seed is ripe and dispersed. Historically geranium extract has been used as an anti-depressant, astringent, antiseptic, deodorant, and to treat diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
BIRD FOOT VIOLET
Notable Alabama geologist Eugene Allen Smith identified this plant in Tuscaloosa County in 1854. The bird foot violet, also called the pansy violet, is often considered one of the most attractive violets. It has large flowers with large orange stamens and multi-segmented, palmate leaves. As the only violet in North America that does not self-pollinate, the bird foot violet is subject to hybridization.
Unlike many violets, it does not usually grow in heavily wooded areas. Instead it prefers dry, sandy, rocky, or clayey banks and open woods. Because of this, these violets can often be found on a hillside or on a roadside. Blossoms are present mostly between March and June. As Carol Brooks remarked, this is an extremely vivid blue color for bird foot violets.
The parsley-leaved hawthorn is also known by the common name "parsley haw". Its distinctive leaves resemble garden parsley, hence the name. It is a small tree with wide-spreading, slender branches and broad, irregular, open crown. Its preferred habitat is moist and rich woods, bottom lands and stream banks.
The leaves are parsley-like in shape, broadly oval, deeply divided almost to midvein. Short pointed and saw-toothed lobes, veins running to notches as well as to points of lobes. The parsley-leaved hawthorn has long and slender leaf stalks that are shiny green on top and pale beneath. Be careful if you touch it because the twigs are thorny.
Its flowers are small with five little white petals, typical of the rose family from which it hails. Flowers have more or less than 10 red-tipped stamens, and one to three styles. Flowers are clustered on slender hairy stalks. Flowers occur in in early spring, and in some cases the flower will unfold before the leaf emerges.
The species name honors Humphry Marshall, a prolific American botanist who lived from 1722 to 1801.
Also known as dragonroot, the Green Dragon is a native plant which is considered relatively rare. Green Dragon has only 1 leaf, but looks can be deceptive. The leaf stem forks so that there appear to be 2 separate leaves, each divided into 5–15 unequal leaflets which are arranged palmately (like the upturned palm of one’s hand) on the tip of the forked stem, which is sometimes 20 inches long.
A separate flower stalk hold the perennial’s unique blossom. 1 greenish, long-tipped spadix (the dragon’s tongue) protruding several inches beyond a narrow green spathe. It is a narrow, greenish, hooded, cylinder with a long, upward-pointing tongue. There are numerous tiny flowers crowded onto the 6-inch-long flower stem, the lower part of which is enclosed within the leaf stem. The white flowers are very small, with no petals or sepals.
John Wathen too this photo along the banks of the creek in May 2012. It has recovered from the tornado which decimated Watson's Bend. The long tapered tip of the spadix resembles a large flickering lizards tongue. Orange-red berries follow.
Trillium stamineum Harbison
A member of the lily family, the twisted trillium is also known as the propellor trillium thanks to its its twisted, propellor-like flower. The twisted trillium flowers in spring from late March to mid May. Flowers range from deep purple to chocolate-red with waxy recurved petals that are horizontal and twisted. Its scent is unremarkable and sometimes even considered unpleasant.
The twisted trillium thrives in dry, upland woods of deciduous trees, deciduous forest mixed with pines, soil on limestone outcroppings, mesic woods, sandy flats along medium streams, steep wooded slopes, banks of rivers. It is found in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. You can see the this plant in Alabama herbariums here.
Since it is locally rare in some parts of Alabama, mitigation efforts have been pursued when highway or residential development was suggested in Winston County.
White laurel flowers in early spring. It has large evergreen leaves.
For Native Americans in early Alabama, the white laurel held a special significance as a symbol of peace.
Anne Weston photographed this wildflower blooming along the Brookwood banks of Hurricane Creek in April 2012.