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BUTLER COUNTY BEGINNINGS Wildflowers from the Wildfork Community

BY ANNIE CRENSHAW

 

By the way, in spite of its prevalence throughout the South, the wisteria we see covering helpless trees, old buildings, fence rows, and anything else that stands still long enough, is NOT a native flower. It’s usually Chinese or Japanese wisteria that has escaped from someone’s yard.

Our native wisteria (American wisteria, or Wisteria frutescens) is less showy, with smaller blooms, but it’s much better to have around your home. It’s less invasive than the imported vines. Like kudzu, “store-bought” wisteria is a strangler. Its vines can run for 50 feet or more, twining around everything in its path. It’s VERY tough, and you can hardly kill it. Just ask my husband!

But, its drooping, grape-like blossoms are soooo pretty. It makes those fallen buildings and derelict landscapes look exotic and hauntingly attractive, as if they were posed for a creative photography session.

Native or foreign, wisteria does make nice baskets and wreaths, as crafts people will tell you.

A VERY unique native plant made the news in 1961 in Butler County. Roy Morgan, chief forester of the W. T. Smith Lumber Company, found and identified a wild camellia in the Wildfork community in May 1961.

Some folks don’t want to believe it, but we DO have a wild camellia. It’s Stewartia malacodendron Linnaeus, the silky camellia.

This beautiful flowering deciduous shrub is in the Theaceae or Tea family. It can grow to the size of a small tree, 15 to 18 feet high or more. It’s native to the United States, and tends to be found most often in coastal plain areas.

The silky camellia grows in sheltered woody areas with rich loamy soils. It happens to like our horticultural environment in Butler County, especially in the southern part of the county.

The Stewartia camellia is unique as our country’s, and our state’s, ONLY native camellia – and it’s also rare. It’s listed in the state as an “S2/S3″ species, which indicates relative rarity, vulnerable to extinction, with “few remaining individual plants.”

The wild camellia is listed globally as a “G4″ species – imperiled globally because of its rarity, and VERY vulnerable to extinction throughout its range.

In May 1962, the wild camellia was shown for the first time in Alabama at the Spring Flower Show sponsored by the Greenville Garden Club. Local residents admired the camellia’s white blossoms with dark purple-blue stamens, growing on widely arching branches.

The 1962 show included many examples of native flowers, shrubs and trees gathered from Butler County’s woods and fields by forester Roy Morgan. On display were the Bigleaf Magnolia (a species boasting the largest simple leaf and single flower of any native plant in North America), Southern Magnolia (appropriately named “Magnolia grandiflora” for its “grand” flowers), and Possumhaw – the only deciduous holly in our country, slightly toxic to humans (don’t eat those pretty red berries), but an important food source for songbirds and small mammals.

Native wildflowers in the exhibit included the pitcher plant, trillium, starbush, lead plant, mountain laurel, phlox, and spiderwort, as well as Spanish moss, ferns and cattails.

Spanish moss, as our readers know, isn’t a moss or even a lichen, and it’s not native to Spain. It’s in the Bromeliaceae (bromeliad) family, and it’s a plant with no roots: an epiphyte.

If you haven’t looked up that word recently, an epiphyte is a plant or plant-like organism that grows on the surface of another plant. It gets moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and water, and from debris accumulating around it.

One of my cousins regularly pulls the Spanish moss from the trees in her yard (no matter how culturally “Southern” it looks), declaring that the moss is killing its hosts.

However, Spanish moss isn’t parasitic and rarely kills the trees that it grows on. Sometimes the moss becomes so thick that it shades the leaves of the tree and slows the tree’s growth rate. But a killer parasite, it’s just “not.”

If you want to know more about Spanish moss, take a look at “Mineral Cycling and the Niche of Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides L.,” by William H. Schlesinger and P. L. Marks, published in the American Journal of Botany (1977).

 

Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s Beginnings here – http://sites.rootsweb.com/~albchgs/, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.

 

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