Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Virginia Spiraea

Last week the Ohio Heritage Naturalists had the fortune to examine a spectacular plant in bloom, Virginia spirea (Spiraea virginiana). This mega-rarity, as they are known in the botany business, is listed as federally threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is quite rare throughout the Appalachian region, due to its nature to reproduce clonally rather than sexually and its special habitat preferences. It takes root along rivers and streams where competition from trees is absent, but it does not tolerate constant flooding and inundation, restricting itself to a narrow band along high quality streams. Since it seems to inhabit this unusual niche, it is quite rare. There is some thought that this plant was more common after the most recent ice age ended, as it would have had plenty of treeless habitat to inhabit, and now has found refuge near rivers and streams. Today, West Virginia contains the largest populations. Last week was my first time seeing the plant, I was quite impressed. It was a tall shrub, about six feet high, and the specimens we saw appeared to be in full bloom. The shrub's pale white flower clusters looked like little puffballs of cotton from far away, but upon close inspection, the flowers seemed much more delicate and lacy. The flower did remind me somewhat of bridal veil-spiraea, a common non-native cultivated species found in yards across the state. Tonight, I thought I would share a few photos of this mega rarity.

For more information, check out the USDA Plants Website and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas and Preserves Rare Plant Abstracts.


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