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This native plant is a summer annual about ½–2' tall that is either unbranched or occasionally branched. The stems are light to medium green, terete, and moderately covered with a combination of spreading hairs, curved hairs, and short pubescence. The alternate leaves are more closely spaced together toward the apex of the plant rather than the bottom, providing it with a flat-topped appearance. The leaf blades are up to 3" long and 1" across; they are medium green, lanceolate, and crenate with widely spaced blunt teeth to nearly smooth. The upper surfaces of the blades are sparsely canescent, sparsely covered with appressed hairs, or hairless. The slender petioles are up to 1" long; they are about one-third the length of their blades and usually short-pubescent. Virginia Mercury is monoecious, bearing both staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers on the same plant. Both male and female flowers develop within the same foliaceous bracts from the axils of the leaves. These bracts are sessile (or nearly so), up to ½" tall, and a little more across; they are either open or loosely folded around the flowers. Individual bracts are medium green, more or less hairy, palmately lobed (10-15 lobes), and ciliate along their margins. Individual lobes are linear-lanceolate. Within each bract, a spike of staminate flowers develops. At maturity, each spike is up to ¾" long. Each staminate flower is less than 1/8" across, consisting of a 4-lobed calyx, no petals, and several stamens. The staminate flowers are densely packed along the upper half of each spike. Within the same bract, there are 1-3 sessile pistillate flowers that are largely hidden from view. Each pistillate flower is about ¼" across, consisting of insignificant sepals, no petals, and a 3-valved globoid ovary with short divided styles. The blooming period occurs from mid-summer into the fall and lasts about 2-3 months. Only a few flowers are in bloom at the same time. Cross-pollination is by wind. Each pistillate flower matures into a 3-celled seed capsule; each cell of the capsule contains a single ovoid-oblongoid seed about 1-2 mm. long. This plant reproduces by reseeding itself.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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