Euphorbia - Fieldwork Activities

USA (western North Carolina), 2-7 July 2008

Participant: Jeff Morawetz

I set off to Asheville, NC to hunt down the rare and elusive Euphorbia purpurea. This species came to our attention as a priority via our colleague Dmitry Geltman in Russia. He asked us to look into getting fresh material of this species for his work on subgenus Esula from Europe and the Caucasus. This is when we learned it is not very common at all! Restricted to a small range in the central-eastern US, even within these few states it is not very common. For instance, while the species is known from Ohio, it is only known from a single population in the southeastern portion of the state. Further, even where this species does occur, it is not always reproductive, so obtaining inflorescences or seeds may not be possible even if one can locate a few stems.

Habit of E. purpurea

E. purpurea

Fruit of E. purpurea

I was confident I could find a couple of populations because E. purpurea is fairly widespread in western North Carolina. The largest population is known from Chunky Gal near Riley Knob. My willing assistant (and friend) Troy and I navigated to the trailhead for this locality in the Nantahala National Forest. We found ~50 stems of E. purpurea, but only a single one was in flower. We had much better luck in the Pisgah National Forest. Our first location for Pisgah was along the Appalachian Trail from the entrance at Sam's Gap. About 1 mile in there was a population known from a south-facing cove. We found this one just in time. After searching about 5 coves in the area a thunderstorm was fast approaching, and we located the population just as the first drops of rain were falling. Only a single fruit was found, and the rest of the stems were sterile and already dying back. We sped back to the trailhead to avoid getting too soaked, and we were able to grab some E. corollata along the way. The real jackpot was at our final locality in Pisgah, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway on an unassuming US Forest Service road. It was growing right along the roadcut and extending back into the forest. There were easily 100 stems, and two were in flower right by the road. Pfew! That made for a happy 4th of July indeed.

I owe huge thank-yous to Gary Kauffman (USFS), Carolyn Wells (USFWS), Suzanne Mason (NHP), Dan Pittillo (formerly of WCUH), Katherine Mathews (WCUH), Troy and So-Yung Wilson. Thanks also go to Paul Super at the National Park Service.

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