American Trailplant

As a youngster I would pretend to be an Indian and practice “tracking” in the woods behind my childhood home. Maybe that is why the American trailplant (Adenocaulon bicolor) is one of my favorite wildflowers. Trailplant  leaves are glabrous (hairless) and green on the upper surface while the lower surface is greyish and woolly.  The grey undersides of leaves turned over by a passing person (or animal) show the path taken. Trailplant, also commonly called pathfinder, was once used by trackers of escaped convicts or lost people.

This native, perennial inhabits moist organic sites in the understory of shady woods and forests in Southern Canada, the Northern United States and California. A “sunfleck” species, trailplant utilizes the temporary patches of light on the forest floor for its energy requirements.

Although trailplant belongs to the sunflower family, it differs from the typical sunflower in that it has no ray flowers, only disk flowers, and the seeds lack a pappus (bristles).

The single, erect trailplant stem arises from a fibrous root and grows up to three feet in height and is white-woolly on the lower part and has stalked glands on the upper portion. Surrounded by basal leaves at the base, the stem itself has a few, alternate leaves which are almost scale-like near the top of the stem. The triangular leaves have winged petioles (stems). The tiny trailplant flower heads are arranged in a widely branching inflorescence and are composed of  white, tubular disk flowers. Only three to seven of the outer flowers in a head are fertile. The involucral bracts surrounding the head are green, point downward when mature and eventually fall off. The fruits are club-shaped achenes (dry, nutlike) with sticky, stalked glands on the outer portion. To my mind the circular array of fruits almost looks like a flower itself.

The genus name, Adenocaulon, derives from the Greek: “aden” meaning gland and “caulon” meaning stem. The species name, bicolor, refers to the two different leaf colors, green on the top and grey on the bottom.

These photographs were taken along the North Umpqua Trail in Southern Oregon or on the Fall Loop Trail at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park in California.

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