Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Golden Colicroot - Aletris aurea   Walter
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Section 5 » Order Liliales » Family Nartheciaceae
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AuthorWalter
DistributionPrimarily the southern half of the Coastal Plain, extending northward to the northeastern edge of the Piedmont. Ranges in the state north to Beaufort, Nash, and Franklin counties; however, it ought to be present in the northern Coastal Plain, as it occurs in southeastern VA. Of spotty occurrence in the central Coastal Plain and in the Sandhills region.

This is a Coastal Plain species, ranging from southern MD and southeastern VA south to northern FL, and west to southeastern OK and eastern TX. It ranges sparingly into the Piedmont province.

AbundanceInfrequent in the southeastern Coastal Plain, but mostly rare to locally uncommon farther west into the Sandhills region. Very rare in the eastern edge of the Piedmont and the northwestern portion of the Coastal Plain.
HabitatThis species occurs mainly in wet pine savannas, as well as in moist pine flatwoods. It also can be found in seepage areas with pitcher-plants and in blackwater streamhead ecotones.
See also Habitat Account for Wet, Sandy, Fire-maintained Herblands
PhenologyBlooms from mid-May into July; fruits mainly in August. As Weakley (2018) points out, it blooms a few weeks later than the more common Aletris farinosa where both occur together.
IdentificationThis is a quite striking plant when in bloom, but it is easily overlooked otherwise. It has a cluster of fairly short and narrow basal leaves to about 2" long, but it sends up a slender flowering scape to about 15-18" tall, with somewhat widely scattered small golden-yellow flowers. Each flower is only about 1/4" long, barrel-shaped and quite rough and "mealy" to the touch. In fact, these yellow "balls" hardly look like flowers at all, and look more like capsules! It could be confused in NC only with the extremely rare A. lutea, which was discovered in 2011. As that species also occurs in savannas, the feature to look for is the shape of the flowers; A. lutea has narrower flowers with slightly flared tepals, such that the flower has a distinct opening. A. aurea flowers are more rounded in shape and the tepals are curved so that there is barely an opening into the flower. You should be able to see a few Golden Colicroots if you walk in some coastal savannas in June or early July.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Yellow Colicroot (the usual common name for Aletris lutea)
State RankS3? [S3]
Global RankG5
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