Stoneseed or Hoary Puccoon
If it were not for the unusually vibrant, orange to yellow color of these flowers, you would probably miss this little plant completely while walking in the great outdoors. The first time I discovered it, I found it in bloom in April of 2012, near Shawsville, VA. The plants were growing on a sunny, dry, exposed-limestone hillside below some scraggly young trees. The next time I saw the plant in flower, there were several small clumps of hoary puccoon growing in a similar kind of habitat (sunny, dry, exposed hillside) at Wildwood Park in Radford. The date was May 2nd, 2014.
From various sources, I’ve learned this:
The flowers of hoary puccoon are small, tubular, 5-lobed, and lack a petiole, which means they seem to sit right on the plant rather than being raised above it. The flowers usually appear in clusters. The leaves are small, alternate, and narrowly oblong. Both the leaves and the stems are covered with short hairs (pubescent). Individual plants are short–growing only 4 to 15 inches in height.
And about that weird name:
The word “puccoon” is an Algonquian name for a plant that “produces dyes” —Native Americans processed the stout roots of hoary puccoon for red or yellow pigment. The word “hoary” means hairy, and refers to the soft fuzz that covers the leaves and stems.
The other common name for this plant is “stoneseed”. This name refers to the shiny, hard nutlets that it produces as seed. The Latin name too–Lithospernum canescens–can be roughly translated as hairy stone-seed.
In your travels, look for stoneseed growing right now (in early May), in sunny, open spots where the rock is exposed. It has a preference for limestone.