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This native perennial plant is a twining vine up to 20' long that can climb adjacent vegetation and fences, otherwise it sprawls across the ground. The slender stems are light green to bright red and round, angular, or slightly ridged. They are largely hairless, except for minute stiff hairs along the ridges. At the base of the petioles, the stems are slightly swollen and have short ocreae (membranous sheaths) that are without bristles. The alternate leaves are up to 4" long and 2" across (excluding the petioles). They are cordate or ovate, smooth along the margins, hairless, and indented at the base. Their slender petioles are up to 1½" long and similar in appearance to the stems. The lower leaves have long petioles, while the smaller upper leaves are nearly sessile. From the axils of the leaves, there develops one or more racemes of flowers about 2-8" long. These racemes are usually more or less erect (although sometimes horizontal) and their central stalks are often terete with numerous fine ridges. The greenish white flowers occur in loose whorls along these racemes. They are initially semi-erect while in bloom, but dangle downward from their slender pedicels while developing their fruits. Each flower is about 1/6" long, consisting of 5 greenish white tepals, 8 stamens, and an ovary with a tripartite style. The 3 outer tepals are conspicuously winged. The wings of these tepals can be smooth, undulate, or slightly jagged. The blooming period occurs from mid-summer to early fall and lasts about 1-2 months. Each flower is replaced by a winged fruit about 1/3" long that consists of the 3 outer tepals enclosing a single achene. This fruit is initially greenish white like the flower, but it eventually becomes brown. The 3-angled achenes are about 1/8" in length (or slightly longer). They are dark brown or black and shiny. The mature fruits can float on water or be blown about by the wind, thereby distributing the achenes. This plant reproduces by reseeding itself and can form sizable colonies at favorable sites. Cultivation


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

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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