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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - May 28, 2014

From: Sand Lake, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: General Botany, Herbs/Forbs, Wildflowers
Title: Should Rock Harlequin stay green all winter?
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I have a rock harlequin that came up in a area that had been disturbed. It came up last summer/fall and the foliage survived our tough winter. I can not find anything about this plant staying green all winter. Is this normal? The plant is almost 3 feet tall and has many branches and flowers now. Thanks for your help.

ANSWER:

Rock Harlequin, Corydalis sempervirens, is listed in all references as a biennial and in many refereces as a sometimes annual.  Some plants of this species that get an early start in the spring may complete their life cycle (seed germination, vegetative growth, flowering, fruiting and death) in one calendar year.  Otherwise, they will overwinter in the vegetative growth stage the first year and complete their life cycles in the following year.

Interestingly, you have to look no farther than this species' botanical name to get an idea of it overwintering characteristics.  The specific epithet, sempervirens, is taken from two Latin words meaning "always green."  A number of evergreen plant species have sempervirens as their specific epithet.

Just as you described your plant's habitat, this species is commonly found in disturbed areas.  It is especially common in areas of recent forest fires.

Your plant is likely to flower and fruit through the summer and into fall and will die at the end of this year's growing season, but not before replenishing the soil seed bank around it with large numbers of its progeny.  When conditions are right again -- next spring or in years to come -- some of this year's seed crop will germinate and begin the life cycle anew.

 

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