Fixating on Figworts

The figworts (Scrophulariaceae in the broad sense) are a group of flowering plants that often have gorgeous, bilaterally symmetric (left and right sides mirror each other) flowers. They employ a variety of life history and ecological strategies — my favorite is the role of parasitism in these plants! The humble beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) gets its name from its proximity to beech trees. This proximity stems from beech drops parasitizing the roots of beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees! And few would suspect that the brilliantly colored, delicate Indian paintbrush is a parasite! They are partial parasites (“hemiparasites”) on nearby grasses and forbs.

These plants have undergone a lot of taxonomic upheaval (many name changes) in the past few years. These name changes have mostly been at the family level but some generic and species names have been modified as well. This was spurred by DNA-based research on the evolution of these species and the expert recommendations of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group.

So this expedition offers two opportunities to you. The first is a chance to learn to recognize the scrophs of Virginia, U.S.A. And the second is the chance to stay on top of some of those troublesome taxonomic name changes!

— Jordan Metzgar, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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