Virginia Pennywort

Obolaria virginica

Virginia Pennywort
Virginia Pennywort

We were out hunting for morels when we came across this somewhat obscure spring ephemeral, Virginia Pennywort. These plants were growing along the edge of the forest on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, Virginia.

Pennywort is difficult to spot in the springtime forest because it is very short and non-descript. It only reaches about 6 inches in height, so it is easily camouflaged by the dry leaf litter that still covers the forest floor in April.  The small, grayish, spatulate leaves are much-reduced for a flowering plant, and this immediately made me wonder if it truly photosynthesizes–  or maybe lives “in association” with something else?  As it turns out, Virginia pennywort is in a symbiotic with a mycorrhizal fungus, which in turn is also symbiotic with another plant.  Amazing!  To see more examples of local flowering plants that rely on “alternative energy sources” for their nutrition, check out these entries: Indian pipe, Pinesap, and Squawroot.

Pennywort’s purplish-white flowers are arranged–usually in threes–in a circular manner around the fleshy stem. The stiff appearance of the flowers may remind you of Stiff Gentian or Closed Gentian— that’s because Virginia Pennywort is a member of the Gentian Family!

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. attack laurel says:

    We found this in our woods today! I’d never have worked out what it was – no-one recognized it. Thank you for your hard work!

    1. Gloria says:

      Yeah, a first-time ID on this plant is a challenge!

  2. Kimber Hawkey says:

    Hi, is this the same type of pennywort that is used medicinally (as in Gotu Kola)?

    1. Gloria says:

      Don’t know offhand!

  3. Kadie says:

    I live in a little town call Bullock. It’s in North Carolina. I just found some of this. I’m 36 years old and it’s my first time seeing it. I wonder how it got here ? I wonder if it’s just something that’s always grown here and I’m just now finding it.. lol I also wonder if I can replant it and it live ? Oh the questions I Thanks for identifying

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