Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Small Enchanter's-nightshade - Circaea alpina   L.
Members of Onagraceae:
Members of Circaea with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Myrtales » Family Onagraceae
DistributionNearly throughout the Mountains, being limited to middle and especially higher elevations.

This is a widespread North American species, from coast to coast, ranging in the east south to PA and northern IL, and then south through the Appalachians to southwestern NC and adjacent TN.
AbundanceFairly common above 5000 feet, and uncommon down to about 4000 feet; perhaps absent from Cherokee County and Alleghany County owing to insufficiently high elevations.
HabitatThis is a species of cool and somewhat damp places, most frequent in spruce-fir forests, or hardwoods mixed with spruce. It can also occur in seepages in forests and near waterfalls and other damp places such as cliff faces with seepage.
PhenologyBlooms from June to September, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is a quite low-growing herb that barely reaches 6-8 inches tall, when in bloom. It has a slender unbranched stem with a few (often just 2) pairs of opposite leaves, each leaf on a moderate petiole and a blade that is widely ovate, with obvious teeth, barely 1.5-2 inches long and 2/3rds as wide. These pairs are at right angles to ones above or below them, and from above the plant almost looks like it has a whorl of leaves. In this species, the leaf base is cordate; in C. lutetiana, the larger leaves have a truncate base. A small raceme of flowers grows from the top of the stem, and one or two upper leaf axils, each with about 5-12 very small white flowers scattered along the stem. Each flower in this genus has only 2 petals, and the flower is barely 1/6-inch across, hardly visible from a standing position! You won't need the flowers for identification, as the several pairs of widely ovate leaves with cordate bases and broad teeth, on a stem barely 6 inches high, should be enough.
Taxonomic CommentsIt should be little surprise that this species would have subspecies or varieties. The taxon present in NC is the nominate subspecies -- ssp. alpina.

Other Common Name(s)Alpine Enchanter's-nightshade, Dwarf Enchanter's-nightshade
State RankS3
Global RankG5
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