Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Eastern Featherbells - Stenanthium gramineum   (Ker-Gawler) Morong
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Section 5 » Order Liliales » Family Melanthiaceae
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Author(Ker-Gawler) Morong
DistributionThroughout the Mountains and most of the foothills; eastward it is quite spotty in distribution as far east as Hertford and Craven counties. Apparently absent in the far eastern counties and perhaps also over much of the southern Coastal Plain. The large gap in the central Piedmont is probably not a real ecological gap.

This is an Eastern species that ranges north to PA and MO, and south to the FL Panhandle and eastern TX. Its centers of abundance are in the Appalachians and in the Ozarks.
AbundanceIt is infrequent though widespread in the southern half of the Mountains, but rare to uncommon in the northern Mountains, the foothills, and the eastern Piedmont. It is quite rare in most of the western and central Piedmont and in the Coastal Plain. The NC Plant Conservation Program lists var. robustum as State Threatened.
HabitatThis species has a remarkably broad range of habitats in the state, yet is usually hard to find and somewhat scarce in all of them! It is most numerous in somewhat open, glady woodlands on slopes, in dry to mesic conditions. It also occurs in meadows, various types of other grassy places (even on balds), and occasionally in bogs. It typically shuns deep shade, overly rich and moist soils, and marshes. The rare var. robustum is found in full sun of wet meadows and bogs only in the northern Mountain counties.
PhenologyBlooms from July to early September, and fruits from August to October.
IdentificationThis is a rather tall yet often slender species that can be easily overlooked unless in bloom. It has numerous, grass-like basal leaves that can be about 1-1.5 feet long but barely 1/3-inch wide. The flowering stem, unlike many other tall lilies, does contain scattered linear leaves along the stem, with the stem topped by a quite large panicle of many dozens of tiny and white star-like flowers. This panicle can often be 9-12 inches tall, on a stem of roughly 3-4 feet high. Though there are quite a few other white-flowered lilies on tall flowering stems and dozens of flowers, this species has tiny flowers with pointed tepals (like 6-pointed stars) and looks like no others when in bloom. In fact, at a distance the inflorescence might remind one of a Dog-fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium)! It is a bit surprising that this wonderful wildflower is not more common than it is, considering its broad habitat range. There are several stands of the "robustum" form that grow in meadows along the northern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Ashe and Alleghany counties; when in bloom, they are "car-stoppers"!
Taxonomic CommentsThis is a lily that thankfully has not switched genera in recent decades; however, there is a considerable range of opinion about how many, or whether any, varieties should be named. RAB (1968) did not list any, nor does NatureServe; Weakley (2020) does list var. gramineum and var. robustum now for the state. The NC NHP database contains three varieties in the state -- the nominate var. gramineum, var. micranthum, and the State Threatened var. robustum.

Other Common Name(s)Featherbells
State RankS3? [S3S4]
Global RankG4G5
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Scott PohlmannWake County, 2020. WakePhoto_natural
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