Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for American Bladdernut - Staphylea trifolia   L.Only member of Staphylea in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Sapindales » Family Staphyleaceae
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DistributionEssentially throughout the Piedmont; limited in the Coastal Plain to rich soils in brownwater river floodplains. Present only a few low elevation areas in the Mountains and foothills. Note that the BONAP and UNC Atlas maps are incorrect or outdated in the Coastal Plain, as the species is present in all four counties – Halifax, Northampton, Martin, and Bertie – containing large amounts of the Roanoke River floodplain.

This is an Eastern species ranging north to NH, southern Canada, and MN, south to northwestern FL and LA. It main distribution lies north and west of NC.
AbundanceInfrequent to fairly common in the eastern and central Piedmont, but scarce in the western Piedmont. Very rare in the Mountains. Locally fairly common along the Roanoke and Cape Fear rivers in the Coastal Plain, but very rare elsewhere in brownwater rivers (such as in Craven County). It is absent over most of the rest of the Coastal Plain.
HabitatThis species requires very rich soil, mainly in brownwater bottomland forests, on forested natural levees, and also on lower slopes, but on slopes only where over circumneutral soil (i.e., Basic Mesic Forest). It is often found with woody species such as Painted Buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) and Common Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), though it is usually less widespread than they are.
See also Habitat Account for Rich Wet-Mesic Hardwood Forests
PhenologyFlowers in April and May, and fruits from August to October.
IdentificationThis is a large shrub to rarely a small deciduous tree, often with several trunks, reaching a height of about 10-12 feet tall. It is usually easily identified, as it has opposite leaves that are trifoliate, with each leaflet being elliptical and about 1.5-2 inches long. The leaflets are distinctly finely-toothed on all margins. Also, the flowers are helpful for identification, as they are small, white, somewhat bell-shaped, about 3/8-inch long and in drooping clusters in spring. Most conspicuous in summer and fall are the very large bag-like capsules –- pale green for a while but turning brown in fall -– that are often 2 inches long. These fruit give rise to the common name of “bladdernut”. The plants often grow in fairly tight stands, as usually a handful or more are found when you first encounter the species.
Taxonomic CommentsThis is the only member of the genus in most of the USA; another is found in CA, and a few dozen others are found outside of North America.

Other Common Name(s)Bladdernut
State RankS4 [S4S5]
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFAC link
USACE-empFAC link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieIngram Mountain, Apr 2010. AnsonPhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieSlope by Rocky River, late June 2011. UnionPhoto_natural

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