Itty Bitty Bartonia

Every plant enthusiast has a handful of species that they search high and low for any time they find themselves out and about. It may be a species you have seen a bunch of times or one your have only read about in the literature. Either way, the search image burns strong in your mind so that when you finally come across the species in question, it is like seeing a celebrity. For me, one of those species is Bartonia virginica.

It may not look like much. Indeed, it is a rather diminutive plant, barely poking its flowers out of the shadows cast by pretty much every other plant near by. However, when conditions are just right, this little gentian seems to flourish. With leaves that have been reduced to small scales that sheath the dainty stem in a couple places, all that really stands out are the tiny, cream colored flowers that cluster near the top. A close inspection of the flowers with a hand lens reveals the unmistakable morphology that runs true throughout the gentian family.

Whereas the stem of the plant does contain chlorophyll, it has long been suspected that this plant must rely on other means of obtaining carbon due to its highly reduced leaves. A paper published in 2009 by Cameron et al., was able to shed some light on this matter. As it turns out, there is strong evidence in support of B. virginica being partially mycoheterotrophic.

This is such a cool little gentian. I was so happy to have come across some. Sometimes it's not always the biggest or the showiest that make our day, but rather the subtle and unique.

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