Elusive Fameflower Blooming on Naked Mountain

Fameflowers blooming on Naked Mountain – photo by author

For the past two months, a tiny, ½ inch flower packed with knock-your-socks-off color has been blooming in the barrens of Naked Mountain.   The common name for this small beauty is Fameflower, its latin name Talinum teretifolium. It is a member of the Purslane Family. It has five bright deep-pink, or magenta, petals and a center with numerous, often 15-20, bright yellow stamens.  It occurs in the Southern Appalachian mountains on rock outcrops, but is threatened in Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland and Pennsylvania.  While most botanical reference books state the plant occurs on sandstone, on Naked Mountain, Fameflower occurs on amphibolite outcrops.  

Amphibolite is a rock that was metamorphosed from a different rock substance due to heat generated by massive plate tectonics.  The surface of the Earth consists of giant plates of rock material that are constantly moving.  Over millions of years these moving plates have created mountains, and oceans and formed and reformed the continents we see today.  Plate techtonics are responsible for many earthquakes, volcanoes and related violent phenomena. 

Virginia geologists I have met during wonderful nature hikes sponsored by the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, have told me that Naked Mountain lies in the midst of what they call the “Great Amphibolite Dike,” an extrusion of metamorphosed rock caused by a rifting of the related geologic plates, that runs for miles along the Piedmont of Virginia, encompassing, in all likelihood, Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.   

An analysis of samples of amphibolite rock taken from Naked Mountain conducted by Peter Panish at the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts found that the rock exhibits information in its physical and chemical make up that indicates it originated as igneous rock with a basaltic chemical composition.  The resulting metamorphosed rock is dominated by hornblende, a key characteristic of certain amphibolites, and contains high levels of calcium, magnesium and iron when compared with granite rocks found in Virginia and New England.   Analysis of the soil taken from Naked Mountain barrens conducted by the Virginia Natural Heritage Program staff revealed a soil with high amounts of magnesium and moderately high amounts of calcium, but lower than expected levels of iron.  

It is the substrate of amphibolite rock and the soil characteristics its erosion produces combined with site characteristics of open, thinly soiled bedrock outcrops of the amphibolite that allows the beautiful, tiny and elusive Fameflower to flourish.  The reason I use the word “elusive” is because each plant puts up one slender branching stem from a basal cluster of fleshy, succulent type leaves and just one or two flowers at the end of a stem branch will open from about 12 noon to 3:00 p.m., and only on a bright sunny day, and then that’s it — they close up and never re-open.  As a result of this behavior, a lot of people have never seen a Fameflower in bloom! 

How lucky I am to be able to stroll a few feet from my home anytime between noon and 3:00 p.m. during sunny days in July and  August and see these beauties in bloom!

3 thoughts on “Elusive Fameflower Blooming on Naked Mountain

  1. Now I know where to come when I need a reminder to stop, breathe deeply, look about me, give thanks, and smell the roses…er….fameflowers. Thanks!

  2. I’ve never seen a fameflower in bloom, either. In our herbarium at the Claytor Nature Study Center, we have specimens from a few locations in the region, one of them from nearby Suck Mountain, on granite. Some of the stems are over a foot tall…much larger than those on the plants I have seen in the wild.

    We live in a geologically very interesting area. There is amphibolite in the Lynchburg area, as well as diabase, hornblende gneiss and other rocks of igneous origin that weather into soils that sometimes are very high in Calcium and Magnesium, and so tend to be less acidic or even somewhat alkaline…qualities that according to most references on soil science only originate from a limestone or dolomite parent material (or “mother rock”). At my own preserve, mica schist (also of igneous origin in this formation), is one of the parent materials that has weathered to circumneutral soils where the shooting stars, white trilliums, and other calcium-loving natives that I have introduced are thriving. Curiously, a stone’s throw away, acidiphiles such as blueberry and azalea occur naturally. Nature holds many mysteries.

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