Colonists

cyclamen colony 1

Recently, I was walking along Morgan Creek in Chapel Hill, not far from the North Carolina Botanical Garden, when I noticed what I took to be an unusually extensive and dense population of Hexastylis arifolia, the little brown jug.

cyclamen colony 2

Closer inspection revealed that the plants were actually Cyclamen hederifolium, a native of Mediterranean Europe.  The plants were growing on a steep hillside, where rocks and loose soil have slowly slid down the slope.  A few plants extended onto the wetter, more compacted soil of the flood plain, but that was clearly not their favored habitat.

cyclamen colony 3

Nearby were a few plants of the real Hexastylis arifolia.

hexastylis
Hexastylis arifolia (little brown jugs)

These Cyclamen hederifolium plants had clearly escaped from cultivation, but I don’t think they can really be considered invasive.  The true invasives are plants that form dense stands, choking out native species–things like Eleagnus species,  Ligustrum sinense (Chinese privet), Hedera helix (English Ivy), Pueraria montana (Kudzu), and Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stiltgrass).

Cyclamen seeds are distributed by ants, so the plants are unlikely to spread as far as those species with windborne seeds or berries that are eaten by birds.  The relatively sparse and low-growing leaves of C. hederifolium are also unlikely to smother other woodland plants–not that there is much else that likes to grow in the dry, unstable soil that the cyclamens seem to favor.

Not far from the cyclamens, I did see several other species with more potential to be invasive. Mahonia bealei (leatherleaf mahonia) and Ilex cornuta (Chinese holly) were naturalized in the woods, and of course, English ivy is ubiquitous.  The beautiful variegated leaves of Arum italicum stood out in the wet soil near the creek.  I had been thinking of adding A. italicum to my garden, but given its ability to spread and potential to be invasive in the mid-Atlantic region, I’m now not sure that’s a good idea.

arum
Arum italicum (lords-and-ladies) growing beside Morgan Creek

Although the C. hederifolium are probably no threat to native ecosystems, seeing them in an ostensibly wild area was a good reminder that the plants we grow in our gardens may not always stay there.

7 thoughts on “Colonists

  1. The cyclamen may be from the garden of William Lanier Hunt, who lived on a street that was uphill from the Botanical Garden. He had a number of cyclamen species, of which he was a great fan, and the back of the property dropped off sharply, perhaps toward a creek. At least that’s my memory from a single visit in the 1980s.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beware of the Arum Itilicum it is very invasive here in zone 8, piedmont region of middle Georgia. I have found it impossible to remove from my garden. The sandy soil seems to hold the little bulblets then they pop up everywhere I really wish I had known before beginning this never ending battle with this useless plant. It has a nack for mixing with other plants almost using them as a cover in order to survive. The foliage & berries once considered a bonus do not warrant the show & the spreading everywhere this plants ends up. I would recommend a through research of all plants that may be considered invasive they truely end up being a nucience & a headache

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Janet, Thanks for the info. I had just about come to that conclusion, but it’s good to have confirmation that I should keep it out of my garden. I guess I’ll stick to hellebores for winter foliage.

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