Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Little Heartleaf - Hexastylis minor   (Ashe) Blomquist
Members of Aristolochiaceae:
Members of Hexastylis with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 4 » Order Aristolochiales » Family Aristolochiaceae
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Author(Ashe) Blomquist
DistributionEssentially throughout the eastern and central Piedmont, as well as the southwestern Piedmont, and very locally in the central Coastal Plain. Seemingly absent or nearly so from the northwestern Piedmont, as well as the Mountains and most of the Coastal Plain. Absent from the Sandhills proper.

This is a fairly narrow endemic of the mid-Atlantic states, essentially only from northern VA, south through NC, and into north-central SC.
AbundanceFrequent to common in a fairly narrow band from Person and Vance counties south and southwest to the SC state line across the Piedmont of the state. Less numerous in the west-central Piedmont, and rare well east into the Coastal Plain to Martin and Pitt counties.
HabitatThis is a species of mostly thin, often rocky soil, including stream banks. It favors moderate to steep slopes, including bluffs and ravines, of hardwood forests.
See also Habitat Account for General Hardwood Forests
PhenologyThis is a very early blooming species, often in late winter; blooms from February to late March, rarely later; fruits shortly after blooming.
IdentificationThis is a familiar heartleaf to biologists working in hilly portions of the eastern and central Piedmont, it being the most numerous of the variegated-leaved species there. It has several round, glossy, thick, evergreen leaves that are dark green and strongly variegated along the veins with white. The leaves are about 3 inches long and wide, with a cordate base. There are usually several flowers growing at the base of the leaves, typically hidden or partly so in dead leaves. The flower cup is cylindrical and about 2/3-inch long and wide, with the opening somewhat wider than the length of the cup (i.e., the cup is a bit wider than deep); and the flower contains three fairly long triangular lobes that are over 1/3-inch long and quite spreading, often wavy-edged. The flower is purple-brown in color, and the inside of the lobes is heavily spotted in white. Over most of its range, the only other species with which it can be confused is H. virginica; that species blooms later, in April and May, it has a generally smaller flower, and most importantly, the lobes are quite short -- barely 2-4 mm long (about 1/10-inch long) -- and these lobes are erect or slightly ascending, such that the lobes are not widely flared to easily see the inside of them. Occasionally a few plants seem to show flower characters that can be difficult to separate, but at times the flowering period is helpful. In the southwestern Piedmont, it might overlap in range with a few other species, especially H. naniflora, but that species has very small flowers with an opening so small that you cannot fit your "pinkie" inside the cup! Hexastylis heterophylla is not variegated or not strongly so, and it has a smaller flower with the cup opening shorter than the length of the calyx lobes.
Taxonomic CommentsNearly all references consider this as a good species. NatureServe treats it as a species, but with a puzzling and unexplained "Q" on the Global Rank to indicate Questionable taxonomy.

Other Common Name(s)Little Ginger. The scientific epithet is puzzling; what is "minor" about this species? It has fairly large flowers, and there is nothing really "Little" about it. Thus, it has a poor common name, but one that has stuck owing to its bad scientific name.
State RankS4
Global RankG4G5Q
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US Status
USACE-agcp
USACE-emp
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