I like flower gardens but don’t have time to plant one. That makes finding lovely wildflowers even more special. Petunias are such lovely flowers. Surprisingly, Ozark wild petunias only look like garden ones. The garden varieties are in the same family as potatoes, peppers and tomatoes.
Ruellia strepens L.
May to October N Family: Acanthaceae
Flower: Up to three lavender flowers appear at the leaf nodes and tips of branches. Each flower is two inches long, shaped like a funnel with the end broken into five rounded lobes flaring out an inch and a half. The base of the flower is surrounded by a green calyx with five points and covered with short hairs.
Leaf: The opposite, green leaves have small leaf like bracts at their nodes. The leaves have no to short petioles. Each leaf is up to 6 inches long flaring out quickly then tapering slowly to a point. The midvein is prominent with numerous strong side veins. Minute hairs are along the underside of the veins and around the leaf edges.
Stem: The green stem starts out unbranched but can branch on older plants. The stem has minute rows of hairs but appears hairless from a distance. It has rounded ridges.
Habitat: This plant likes shade and grows along creeks, in open woods and along roads.
Smooth Wild Petunia
Smooth Ruellia, Limestone Ruellia
Smooth Wild Petunia looks like a garden variety petunia but isn’t one. It varies in color from a ruby red to lavender to a rare white. Only a couple of flowers open each day and are easily missed when they are lower down on the plant. The flower only last a day.
The Smooth Wild Petunia plant stands upright and can reach three feet but is usually half that. The leaves are large and hide the flowers. The base of each leaf is hidden under a pair of bracts shaped like the leaves but much smaller. The hairs on the plant are so minute that the plant looks hairless.
There are three species of wild petunia. Although all three are listed as beginning to bloom in May, this one seems to be a week or so ahead of the others. All have similar flowers. One plant is conspicuously hairy. The other two are not. This one has the flowers without stalks from the leaf nodes. The other one has flower stalks and smaller leaves.
I find this plant in various places, often along the roads. It is an easy plant to overlook. The flowers are a lovely shade of lavender and the first thing noticed, but just a glimpse requiring a second more careful look to really find the flower.