Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Southern Skullcap - Scutellaria australis   (Fassett) Epling
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Author(Fassett) Epling
DistributionThere is some confusion about the identity of the three "tiny" species of skullcaps in the Southeast -- Scutellaria australis, S. leonardii, and S. parvula. The old S. parvula (e.g., in RAB 1968) has been split into these three species. Specimen determinations at NCU (University of North Carolina herbarium) indicates that S. australis has been collected from just three counties in NC, all close to the Fall Line -- Orange, Lee, and Richmond counties. NCU has more specimens of S. leonardii, but apparently none of S. parvula (strict sense).

This species supposedly ranges from NC and KY south to northern FL and eastern TX. It is not known from VA.
AbundanceAll known records are several decades old, and the NCNHP moved the State Rank from S1 to now SH (Historical) in late 2022. However, it is legally protected as a State Endangered species.
HabitatSupposedly, at least in the state, this is a species of bottomlands and other alluvial forests, presumably in rich and high pH soils -- as all three of these species strongly favor or are limited to circumneutral soil. This contrasts with S. leonardii, which occurs on dry soil of roadbanks, glades, and other similar places with little competition.
PhenologyBlooms from May to July, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is a very confounding taxon, easily confused in the field (and in the literature), with the other two dwarf species in the genus -- S. leonardii and S. parvula. It grows to about 6-8 inches tall, often with a few branches, but quite slender. It has numerous pairs (opposite) stem leaves, being ovate to almost round -- quite different from those of the other two species -- but only about 2/5-inch long and across, sessile at the base. Also, there are 3-5 lateral veins on each side of the midrib, with them anastomosing (joining others into a complex pattern). The leaves are quite pubescent, as is the stem. From the upper leaf axils grow the quite small blue flowers, each one about 1/3-inch long. In S. leonardii, the primarily one in the state, the leaves are lanceolate and about 2-3 times longer than wide, entire and usually glabrous and clearly ascending; there are just 1-2 veins on each side of the midrib. In S. parvula, reported in the state but not confirmed, the leaves are ovate, quite hairy, with 3-5 veins on each side of the midrib but not anastomosing. Good luck finding either S. australis or S. parvula in the state; any dwarf species is presumed to be S. leonardii until or unless proven otherwise. These species are very difficult to spot, even in flower; it is often the capsule that more readily catches the attention than does the flower.
Taxonomic CommentsScutellaria australis has often been considered simply as a variety of S. parvula; NatureServe does consider it as a species but with a Q on the Global Rank for Questionable taxonomy. Note, however, that even in the middle of the 20th Century, Gleason (1952) considered all three as good species, as do many or most modern references, including Weakley (2018).

Other Common Name(s)None
State RankSH
Global RankG4T4? [G4?]
State StatusE
US Status
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