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This native plant is a shrub or small tree up to 25' tall. It produces ascending branches sparingly to occasionally. The central trunk and/or larger branches are covered with a thin gray bark that is slightly rough. Smaller branches are dull green with thin vertical stripes of gray bark, while young shoots are entirely green. Young shoots or small branches can be terete (round in cross-section) or 4-angled. Pairs of opposite leaves develop along young shoots and smaller branches; they are up to 4½" long and 2" across. The leaves are ovate to narrowly ovate and finely serrated or crenate. The upper surface of each leaf is dark green and hairless, while the lower surface is pale green and finely pubescent. At the base of each leaf, there is a slender petiole about ½" long. During the fall, the leaves become yellow or red. Small forking cymes of 7-20 flowers develop from the axils of current or former leaves. Each flower is about 1/3" across, consisting of 4 spreading petals, 4 sepals, 4 short stamens with yellow anthers, and a pistil with a short stout style. The petals are reddish purple and oval in shape, while the smaller sepals are greenish purple and oval. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer and lasts about a month. The flowers are replaced by 4-lobed seed capsules that become mature during the fall. At this time, each seed capsule splits open into 4 parts to expose 4 fleshy red arils (fruits) that each contain 2 seeds. The seed capsules are light pink or pale purple with a smooth surface; they later become more dark-colored. The seeds are light brown with a smooth surface. The root system consists of a taproot. This woody 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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