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Know your natives

The great thing about being a horticulturist is there is always a new plant to learn. The industry is constantly releasing new selections, but when you are walking to your mailbox and spy something you have never seen in your own front yard — that’s exciting.

I have a small patch of mixed hardwoods, mostly oak and hickory. My quick stroll to the mailbox proved to be a learning experience when I saw yellow blooms underneath one of the white oaks. At first I thought the blooms had fallen from a confused yellow jessamine vine. As I walked over to take a closer look — it was a tall, perennial-type plant that was new to me.

I learned this plant is called Yellow False Foxglove and is in the genus Aureolaria. It is hemiparasitic (obtains some nutrients from other plants), but does have chlorophyll and performs photosynthesis. The yellow false foxglove attaches to oak tree roots via haustoria (modified roots that penetrate the host’s tissue). They are sometimes called “oak leaches” for this reason.

The flowers are trumpet shaped, a canary yellow color and bloom late summer through early fall. They are pollinated by bumble bees and hummingbirds.

It was great fun to see and learn about a plant that was native to my woods. I will continue to watch for new and exciting natives on my daily walks to my mailbox. 

Rebecca Bates is an MSU Extension-Lincoln County agent, and can be reached at 601-835-3460 or by e-mail at rebecca.bates@msstate.edu.