Weeds of Wednesday: Lovely Lythrum – Not Loosestrife

Winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolata) seems more prevalent this year, perhaps due to Hurricane Irma spreading it about.  Sandee Dawdy (Class of 2016) contacted me at the beginning of the summer to identify a “new” blueish-flowered plant that appeared at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, and it was winged loosestrife.

This pretty native plant — that some folks consider to be a weed — has long been common along Oslo Road at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA).  We have seen it on walks at the Toni Robinson Waterfront Preserve and at the Indian River Lagoon Greenway this year.  Look carefully, as you drive, and you may see it along unmowed ditches.

It grows throughout the southeastern U.S. to Texas.  In Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, this plant is listed as endangered.

In the shade at the IRL Greenway, its habit is a bit leggy, as it valiantly struggles for a spot amid the guinegrass (Urochloa maxima)

In sun, winged loosestrife grows to be 3-4′ tall, is usually taller than broad, and has a compact form.

Its stems are woody and square.  Older stems are ruddy, and older leaves sometimes are reddish.

Its species name, alatum, means winged, since the opposite paired leaves look like wings.  The variety name, lanceolatum, references the lance-shaped (lanceolate), stalkless (sessile) leaves.

Flowers form in the leaf axils of the upper leaves, which are much reduced in size.  Its flowers have six petals, and each petal has a darker central vein.  The petals are not smooth but have a slightly crumpled texture.

Bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators are attracted to winged loosestrife.

Species matters!  Please do not confuse native winged loosestrife with the pernicious Eurasian invasive pest plant called purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).  Also known as wand loosestrife, this evil invader has colonized almost every state except for Florida and forms clonal colonies.

Winged loosestrife is shrubby wildflower that seems to be more common lately in disturbed places but is nowhere overwhelming.  It could be a nice addition to your yard if you have a moist place for it.