Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Golden Colicroot - Aletris aurea   Walter
Members of Nartheciaceae:
Members of Aletris with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 5 » Order Liliales » Family Nartheciaceae
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DistributionPrimarily the southern half of the Coastal Plain and the Sandhills, 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 and MD. Of spotty occurrence in the central Coastal Plain.

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 and 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.
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 inches long, but it sends up a slender flowering scape to about 15-18 inches tall, with somewhat widely scattered small golden-yellow flowers. Each flower is only about 1/4-inch 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). The iNaturalist website names it as Golden Miller's-maid! Where did that bizarre idiosyncratic name come from?
State RankS3? [S3]
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFACW link
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B.A. SorrieSame data. Basal rosettes. Note they are usually tinged red-orange. HarnettPhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieFort Bragg, Northern Training Area, seepage slope, June 2014. HarnettPhoto_natural
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