Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Pink Turtlehead - Chelone lyonii   Pursh
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Section 6 » Order Scrophulariales » Family Plantaginaceae
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AuthorPursh
DistributionThroughout the mountains; very local in the Piedmont east to the central portions (east to Forsyth, Iredell, and Mecklenburg counties).

This is a Southern Appalachian endemic species, ranging from northwestern NC to northwestern SC and west to northern AL. The bulk of the range and populations are in western NC, less so in eastern TN.
AbundanceFairly common to locally common in the mountains; very rare and local in the western Piedmont, and possibly now extirpated (?) in the eastern portions. The NCNHP's State Rank of S3 is too conservative; it has been collected in essentially all mountain counties, with large numbers of specimens in SERNEC. The editors believe that S4 is more appropriate, to match the Global Rank, as NC has the great majority of the world's population.
HabitatThis is a species of a great array on habitats with wet or damp ground, but mostly where shaded or in partial shade, usually with some slope. It grows in Rich Cove Forests (but usually along seepages), into Spruce-fir Forests, in shrub and grass balds where there is seepage, on damp to wet crevices in rocks and cliffs, and along streambanks. Though C. glabra is more widespread in the mountains at the lower elevations, C. lyonii is the primary turtlehead species of the middle and higher elevations, especially in sloping ground.
See also Habitat Account for General Montane Mesic Hardwood Forests
PhenologyBlooms from July to September (earlier than does C. glabra), and fruits in October.
IdentificationThis species has a usually unbrached stem that grows to about 2-2.5' tall, about like the others in the genus. Like them, it has scattered opposite leaves, with a petiole that can average 1" long. The leaf blade averages shorter and wider than on the others, being ovate to lanceolate, about 4" long and 1.5" wide, and shallowly serrated on the margins. The top several inches of the stem contains the dense spike of bright rose-colored flowers, each in the shape of a turtle head and about 1.4" long. When viewed from above, the flowers are not in a set of 4-ranks as is C. cuthbertii; like with C. glabra and C. obliqua, the flowers are not arranged directly over the ones below. C. glabra has white flowers, or white with some rose at the tips, and the leaves are narrower with a very short petiole. C. obliqua is quite similar, however, that species has a petiole less than 2/5" long, and the leaves are rather narrow, with the widest part close to the middle, and not clearly toward the base as in C. lyonii. Also, this last species is rare and limited in the mountains to flatlands, such as streamsides and swampy ground. When rambling around the middle and higher mountains in midsummer and into early fall, you should run into C. lyonii fairly often, without targeting any particular habitat. And, as it often grows in sizable colonies, you can witness a nice rosy-pink spectacle when plants are in full bloom.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Lyon's Turtlehead, Appalachian Turtlehead
State RankS3 [S4]
Global RankG4
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