The Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) has named partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), a woodland wildflower widespread in eastern North America and found in every county of Virginia, as Wildflower of the Year for 2012. 

“Partridgeberries are particularly interesting,” said W. John Hayden, the society’s botany chair and professor of biology at the University of Richmond.  “Though small, they are strikingly beautiful plants. The foliage is dark green and evergreen, with a white stripe-like midvein.  White flowers appear in late spring and summer, followed by bright red fruits no bigger than a peppercorn.” 

One noteworthy feature, Hayden said, is that different plants make flowers of two different forms: some flowers have protruding anthers and hidden stigmas while others have protruding stigmas and hidden anthers.  Only cross-pollinations between the two flower forms will result in successful seed-set. Another unusual aspect is that two closely paired flowers routinely produce a single fruit by the fusion of their paired ovaries. 

“Partridgeberry illustrates an important principle of plant biodiversity – take any species, examine it thoroughly, and all sorts of strange biological details emerge,” said Hayden. 

Each year since 1989 VNPS has selected a native plant as Virginia Wildflower of the Year to draw public attention to the botanical diversity of the Old Dominion. The plant then becomes the subject of an illustrated brochure that introduces the botany, natural history, folk and garden uses, and conservation of the featured plant. Brochures are available from VNPS chapters or the society’s office at Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, Va.  A digital version can be found at http://vnps.org/wildflower-of-the-year-2012/.

VNPS and its approximately 2,000 members promote public education, protection of endangered species, habitat preservation and appropriate landscape use of native plants. More information about VNPS and partridgeberries can be found at http://www.vnps.org/home or by contacting Hayden at 804-289-8232 or jhayden@richmond.edu or VNPS at 540-837-1600 or vnpsofc@shentel.net

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Professor of Biology
Anatomy, morphology, and systematics of vascular plants, especially family Euphorbiaceae, in the context of regional floristics, ethnobotany, systematic monographs, and revisions