Fame Flowers – Beautiful Blooms for an Hour
By guest blogger Alysa Nyberg
Here I sit beneath the shadecloth at the Kankakee Sands Nursery at four o’clock in the afternoon. I am just watching and waiting.
Beside me are 200 small black pots of prairie fame flower (Phemeranthus rugospermus). Any moment now, the pots will be transformed from a mass of green succulent leaves to a floating sea of pink when the blossoms of the fame flower open. Then within an hour, they will close again. The whole process is absolutely mesmerizing, puzzling, and intriguing. That’s why you’ll find me here, again, this evening, watching and waiting for the floral show to begin.
Fame flower is a small plant, growing only three to four inches in height. It has grey-green, long smooth succulent leaves all clustered together at its base. From this cluster arises a flowering stalk bearing several pink, five-petaled flowers a mere ½ inch across. After the flowers are pollinated, ¼ inch round seed pods form. They are packed with teensy greyish black, round seeds that have wrinkles on their surface. Below the ground, fame flower has a short taproot and lateral runners from which other crowns of leaves and flower stalks arise.
Fame flower is related to spring beauties, which you may have growing in your woodlot. Spring beauties are also a native plant of our area, however, fame flower is state threatened in Indiana. Therefore, we are growing it at Kankakee Sands Nursery in an effort to reestablish it, along with 600 other native species, to the prairie restorations. Fame flowers love the disturbance of the sandy nobs and shifting sands, so they should be right at home on our sandy soils of Kankakee Sands.
My husband and I had a few fame flowers growing in the landscaping of our home in Newton County for several years. The plants thrived the years that our goats escaped from their pasture and trod upon the sandy soil where the fame flowers grew, creating a disturbance in the soil structure. However, the plants did not appreciate the year that the goats laid upon them and compacted the soil beneath them, and so, unfortunately, fame flowers are no longer in our landscaping.
Now when I want to see fame flower in a natural setting, I go over to The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands properties in Illinois, where they grow on the sand dunes of the black oak savannas. Hopefully, within the next few years, we’ll be able to find fame flowers growing at Kankakee Sands in Indiana as a result of our restoration work.
No one actually knows for sure how fame flower got such a fantastic name. There are theories though. Perhaps it was a spelling error of the word flame. May of the plants in the same genus are named flame flower due to the brightness of the flower color. Or perhaps, early botanists thought the flower to be starved or famished, and therefore only able to flower for a short time each day; the name fame being a derivative of the word famished. Don Kurtz, author of Illinois Wildflowers, wittingly says that perhaps it was given such a name because, “Like a person’s fame, it only flowers for a short time”.
Bloom time for fame flower is recorded to be from mid-June to mid-September in our local area. Though in my opinion, the best time to view it is at the peak of blooming, right around the fourth of July holiday. Visit The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands Nursery in Indiana or Kankakee Sands in Illinois around the four o’clock hour within the next few weeks to witness this amazing floral display for yourself. Get ready to watch and wait…and be mesmerized.
The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is 10,000 acres of prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. The Nature Conservancy in an international, non-profit organization. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285- 2184.