The first figwort I saw was growing on a roadside near a cold water spring. The flowers were such an unusual shape and color, it caught my attention. To my surprise it turned up in Ozark Wildflowers, the last brown wildflower in the book.
That plant came up several more years until the annual brush cutting finally killed it off. However I had found another plant growing near a shed at home. that plant continues to thrive as do several others I have come across over the years.
Scrophularia marilandica L.
July to October N Family: Scrophulariaceae
Flower: Flowers are on long stalks both at the top of the stem and from leaf nodes on the upper half of the stem. Each flower has a cylindrical shape from the side. A green calyx with five pointed lobes surrounds the base. The five petals are light green on the outside. From the open end of the cylinder the inside of the petals is reddish brown. Two petals form a flat top. Two petals form the sides. A single wider petal that curves downward forms the bottom. Inside are five stamens. An infertile one is on the upper petals. Four fertile ones with cupped ends are over the lower petal. A single pistil hangs out dangling from the lower petal.
Leaf: Opposite leaves are spaced along the stem. Lower leaves have long, up to 3 inches long petioles. the petioles get shorter as the leaves get higher on the stem. Each leaf has a rounded base with a long taper to a sharp point. The edges have regular teeth. The upper surface is darker green than the under side of the leaf. The midvein is prominent on the lower surface as are the main venous branches. The midvein can have short hairs on both top and bottom sides.
Stem: A single rigid, square, unbranched, green stem can be three and a half feet to eight or ten feet tall. Flower stalks go off from leaf nodes and make a loose spire at the top of the stem. The sides of the stem are curved inwardly on each side. The stem can have short hairs.
Root: The root is a perennial knotty tuber with rhizomes.
Fruit: The seed pod is made up of two pieces forming a globular case around numerous seeds.
Habitat: This plant prefers light shade in open woods, ravines and creek banks.
Carpenter’s Square, Late Figwort
Figwort plants seem to get taller every year. The lower leaves get longer, up to eight inches. this is what gets the plant noticed.
Figwort flowers are small, barely half an inch long, and easily missed. Once noticed, their unusual shape is eye-catching.
From the side a figwort flower appears green. From the front the deep reddish brown is seen. Four yellow marbles sit on the lower lip of the flower. These are the stamens.
From the side the two upper petals are flat, extending out like a flat roof over the rest of the flower. The rest of the flower hangs down from this flat roof giving the flower the appearance of a short pipe.
From the front the two upper petals have rounded, ruffled edges of deep reddish brown. The front is round and extends back inside the almost quarter inch across pipe.
The plants seem to grow singly. Once one is spotted, it comes up every year. One grows near a shed wall. The first year is was three feet tall. Ten years later it is taller than the eaves, close to seven feet tall.
Read about more Ozarks plants and animals in Exploring the Ozark Hills.