Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Allegheny Mountain Golden-banner - Thermopsis mollis   (Michaux) M.A. Curtis
Members of Fabaceae:
Members of Thermopsis with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
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Author(Michaux) M.A. Curtis
DistributionPresent over most of the Piedmont, though seemingly absent in some places in the southeastern portions, especially along the SC border from Mecklenburg County eastward. Known from only a few counties in the southern Mountains.

The species has a small range in the southern Piedmont and southern Appalachians, but not in the higher elevations. It ranges north to western VA and eastern KY, and south only to northern GA and northeastern AL.
AbundanceRare to very uncommon in the Piedmont, except very rare to absent in the southeastern portion. Most numerous, where locally uncommon, in the western and southwestern Piedmont, such as in foothills and monadnocks. Very rare in the southern Mountains near Hickorynut Gorge. Despite well over 70 records known to the NCNHP in their database, this was listed a State Special Concern species, until May 2021. It is now off the State protected list, tracked by the NCNHP as Significantly Rare. The website editors feel that a State Rank of S3 is more appropriate than the very conservative S2 assigned by NCNHP.
HabitatThis is a species of dry soil, usually in partial shade to light shade. It most often grows on open upland ridges, and along the edges of upland woods, particularly on slopes of monadnocks and other hills. It always grows in acidic soils, often where low ericaceous shrubs such as blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and/or huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.) are present.
PhenologyBlooms in April and May, and fruits from June to August.
IdentificationThis is the shortest of the three Thermopsis species in the state, and the only one that grows over the majority of the Piedmont. Vegetatively, it can be confused with a few Baptisia species, but this species has bright yellow flowers whereas most Piedmont Baptisia species have non-yellow flowers (except for the small-leaved B. tinctoria). T. mollis grows mostly just to 1-1.5 feet tall, with a few branches, such that the species is often wider than tall, and it often grows in small colonies. The 3 leaflets are rather large, each one being elliptical and about 2.5 inches long and about 1-1.5 inches wide, being fairly hairy below. The flower clusters (racemes) are from the ends of branches and are somewhat erect to ascending, about 4 inches long, with a fairly dense array of bright yellow flowers at the end (for several inches), each flower being about 3/4-inch long. It is similar to T. fraxinifolia, but that species grows taller (often 2 feet high), has flower clusters from leaf axils and ends of branches, clusters that are usually horizontal or strongly drooping, calyx lobes that are glabrous (hairy in T. mollis), and blooms essentially only from the end of May into July (whereas T. mollis is normally finished blooming by late May). Of course, T. mollis grows in many sites much farther eastward into the Piedmont where the other is not present, though the ranges overlap in the western Piedmont and southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. The other species in the genus -- T. villosa -- is a much taller species with a very hairy stem and no branches. You likely will have difficulty finding T. mollis in much of the central and lower Piedmont, and your chances are better in the foothills, where it might be visible from roads that pass through or alongside hills and low mountains.
Taxonomic CommentsSome references lump T. fraxinifolia with T. mollis, as a variety. However, most keep them separate as species, which is correct, as biologists/botanists who have seen both species can clearly support.

Other Common Name(s)Appalachian Golden-banner -- but this is confusing, as of the three species in the genus, it is the one least likely present in the Appalachians.
State RankS2 [S3]
Global RankG3G4
State StatusSR-T
US Status
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