Friday, January 10, 2014

That Rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant!

 This is a tongue in cheek article I wrote for the Perennial Plant Society a few months ago. It was already published in their newsletter. I realize not all readers of this blog get the PPS newsletter and since I love this article so much, I thought I'd share it on here with you all and see if you too have "That rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant!"

Are you a plant geek? What is a plant geek you ask? A plant geek is a person who is simply obsessed with plants. And not just any plants either. Plant geeks must have only in their garden the most rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant. It is only in their garden. Oh yes, you all know I am talking to you! Well let’s just say you have the rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant and it is one you simply love. The only problem is you cannot identify the plant. You’ve tried to get help from all of your plant geek friends and you have even secretly hoped they could not identify your plant because you just know you have the most rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant. In fact, you have grand visions of even having discovered a new type of plant. Aha! All the while you are fervently hoping your rare and mysterious plant does not turn out to be some exotic invasive that is taking the state by storm and which everyone in the know is trying to eradicate. (Fingers crossed here!) Does that sound like you? Well, it is me to a T. Yes, as in a capital TINA.

My husband (Mr. Fix-it) and I recently purchased nearly sixty acres of wooded bliss in Stewart County. Think very private, very rural, and very teeming with wildlife and new to us flora in the form of mostly native wildflowers and trees. Every single day is a joy because each day on the land brings new surprises in the form of wildflowers. I am the first to say I do not know that much about wildflowers so each day is also a challenge for me to learn about the plants that grow on our land. Each time a new plant shows up I duly get out my wildflower book called Wildflowers of Tennessee, The Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians, (recommended by the Tennessee Native Plant Society) and I research the plant. I can usually find a wildflower pretty quickly by the color of its bloom or by the fact I’ve seen it for sale at one of the numerous plant sales I attend; which include wildflower plant sales at Cheekwood, GroWild, and Nashville Natives. Despite all of my efforts there are still plants that show up that I simply cannot identify or that I misidentify. I try though, I really do and most of the time I get the plants right but then along comes that rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant.

When I cannot identify a wildflower I turn to my handy dandy point and shoot camera and take a few pictures of the wildflower so I can send it to a few very smart plant geeks who happen to hopefully know a lot more than me about wildflowers and who can perhaps identify this rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant. And guess what? No one I knew right off hand could help me identify this rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant. Now I was getting excited because I just knew it was a new plant that only I had! Ha!


Now, most of you are saying, “Hey, why didn’t you get a plant book and key the plant?” Well yes, any self-respecting plant geek probably knows about keying plants but I simply did not think about keying this plant. I do know how to key trees and have quite a few books to help me out with keying trees but it simply never occurred to me to try to key this wildflower or that you could even key plants. Enter a state plant scientist who was very interested in this rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant because he had it on his land and he knew what it was because he keyed it. Duh. Despite his in depth knowledge of this rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant he was not the one who identified this plant for me.

In desperation I posted a picture of the rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant on my professional FaceBook page and lo and behold. A dear friend who happens to be a local friend and not a plant geek at all sent me a link and simply said, “Hey Tina, I think I saw this plant here on this blog.” The blog? It is called Tennessee Yards and Neighborhoods (TYN) Native Plant Blog. Eureka! My friend just cannot possibly know how grateful I am to her for identifying this plant for me. Thank you Terrie!!! I bet you all would like to know what it is too huh? The rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant turned out to be-drumroll please-American Columbo, aka Green Gentian (Frasera caroliniensis).

Have you ever heard of it? I bet not unless you are a plant scientist or a very well educated naturalist. American Columbo is a fascinating native plant and wildflower but it does not have any major medicinal, or culinary, or any other kind of uses that I can learn of, so it is not really a valuable plant. If it was something like ginseng we’d all know it well right? You all do know ginseng is a very valuable plant and has been collected so much its populations are in decline. To complicate matters even more for American Columbo is the fact that it has a very large range but it is rated as not common in its range according the Lady Bird Johnson  Wildflower Center and is even listed as a species of special concern in Canada, threatened in New York, and endangered in Pennsylvania. In fact, many websites rate American Columbo as rare in its range. Well then it would seem its range would not be so wide then right? How does Tennessee rate American Columbo? According to the Natural ResourcesConservation Services website American Columbo can be found in approximately thirty counties in Tennessee including Montgomery and Stewart Counties. I personally know of the population on my land in Stewart County and also managed to find a small population in western Montgomery County. Tennessee however does not have enough information to rate whether or not American Columbo is threatened or endangered because there just is not enough data to be found on it.  

Just through my observations of American Columbo I find it to be a fascinating plant that does serve a purpose in our ecosystem and is beneficial in that it is native, provides food sources for many pollinators, and belongs here because it does not in any way harm humans (like poison ivy and poison oak which are both native and don’t belong here! Just my opinion!) American Columbo also has some unique traits in that it is a monocarp. A monocarp flowers once then dies. It is unknown how long it takes American Columbo to flower but on my land I can tell you several plants did flower this spring and are now setting their seeds and dying. The seeds must be fully saturated and in contact with the ground in order to germinate and grow more American Columbo. I also find it interesting to note American Columbo is extremely adaptable and can grow in acidic or calcareous soils in a wide variety of habitats. Why then do you think it is so rare? Well, from what research I can find it is because many of loss of habitat to invasives that include: Dames Rocket, Japanese barberry, multiflora roses, buckthorn, mustard, and several others I will not list here but which you can find on this website. (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources)  

And do you want to know the best part? I can finally breathe a big sigh of relief that the rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant was not some foreign invasive that was trying to take over the wild on our little sixty acres in Stewart County. Mr. Fix-it and I are going to do our best to protect our fairly large population of this wonderful native wildflower and all of the wildflowers we are lucky to live near. I even hope to get to study the plants once we move out there sometime next year. And do you know what else? I am fairly confident I can still say I am the only one of my gardening friends and plant geeks alike that has this rare-and-wonderful-no-one-else-has-it-plant….in my garden.

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden


  1. What a neat plant and not invasive after all. Enjoy your little colony of these.


  2. Yes, enjoy your little clump of wild flowers as they are precious to all.

  3. What an unusual looking plant, your lucky that it grows at your property. It is always exciting finding something special. Enjoy your wildflowers.

  4. A neat plant and one of many to discover on the farm.

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  6. Glad you were finally able to identify your one-of-a-kind! How neat to have so many different wildflowers to enjoy on your property.