The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 1, 2006


Virginia Meadow Beauty

Name: The Virginia Meadow Beauty is Rhexia virginica, a wayward member of the Melastome family — most of the family has stayed in tropical or sub-tropical climes. The exception is the genus Rhexia which is considered native to North America. Of the six Rhexia species in the east, Rhexia virginica is the most common. It ranges from Nova Scotia down to Florida. It is also known as Handsome Harry (why not Restless Rex?) and Deer Grass. There is a completely unrelated plant, also called deer grass, which grows in western and southwestern U.S. and is used in basket-making.

When and where seen: Steve Tobin saw some Virginia Meadow Beauty on the O'Rourke farm near the Greenough Land early in August last year. There is a ten-foot wide patch blooming now in the lower, damper part ofTowle Field. It was part way through its flowering season on August 26. Many of the plants had both flowers and seed capsules. The plant is a likely suspect in sedge meadows and among cranberry bog vegetation, and there are cranberries nearby in both the O'Rourke and Towle habitats.

Identification: The first thing you notice are the bright pink-purple flowers. They are about an inch across and have four petals. The eight stamens are yellow and branched and stand way out in front of the flower. The pistil is even longer — it extends beyond the stamens to increase the chance of cross-fertilization. The stalk-less leaves are opposite, have a toothed edge and three large veins running from base to tip. The reddish seed capsules are shaped like vases or pitchers. The leaves, stems, capsules and even the backs of the petals are hairy (why not Hairy Harry?). The plants at Towle are around a foot tall, but the species can reach two feet.

Next generation: The flowers are fertilized by bees and butterflies, particularly the common yellow sulfur butterfly. A whole ballet company of yellow butterflies was dancing through the Towle Field last Saturday along with many other flying insects but only a solitary bumble bee was buzzing about with Handsome Harry. The plant is a perennial and new plants from seeds will flower in their second year. (Seeds are available from the New England Wild Flower Society in Framingham.) The plant also spreads vegetatively from tubers.

References: Carol H. Woodward and H. W. Rickett, New York Botanical Garden's Field Guide to Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States; Lawrence Newcomb, Newcomb's Wildflower Guide; Hope Leeson for the Rhode Island Wildflower Society at

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Tell me what you are seeing, send me photos, or write the column. Send to Kay Fairweather at

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito