Aureolaria Laevigata, or Appalachian Oak-Leach
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While walking along a trail in the Cherokee National Forest in August of this year, I noticed a yellow-flowering “vine” that resembled Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). It wasn’t a perfect fit, however; for one thing, its flowering was way off schedule, even considering the elevation (Carolina jessamine begins flowering in February in Eastern North Carolina). Sometime later I submitted images to the herbarium at East Tennessee State University, which is located about 10 miles away from the site in question. In doing so, I learned a new plant: Aureolaria laevigata, in the Orobanchaceae or broomrape family.
Most of the genera contained in this particular family are either fully or partly parasitic on the roots of other plants. A. laevigata is semi-parasitic on the roots of oaks, hence the common name “Appalachian oak-leach.” What I mistook for vine growth was instead a just sprawling, semi-erect growth habit.
The images below provide comparisons between Aureolaria laevigata and Gelsemium sempervirens. A. laevigata is widespread across North Carolina, but more common in the mountains and piedmont portions of the state.