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Species Spotlight – Packera aurea var. gracilis

Packera aurea var. gracilis

A species lost to taxonomy but alive and well in the real world. This diminutive Packera aurea species thrives in full sun and gravelly soils

Packera aurea var. gracilis is a variety of Packera aurea known from Pennsylvania and Maryland that inhabits rocky shore lines, moist shale barren banks, and similarly well-drained site conditions.  Previously named Senecio gracilis and then Senecio aureus var. gracilis, this species was subsumed by Senecio aureus and then renamed Packera aurea.  However, in 1983, noted botanist and curator Leonard J. Uttal argued that Senecio gracilis was most likely a distinct species and warranted further research.

Read Uttal’s article:  Rhodora – Senecio gracilis

In this article, we simple call this species Packera aurea var. gracilis to preserve its current status while recognizing the variety.

See the two Packera aurea var. gracilis images below.  The photo with the white sign shows this species’ habit under normal garden conditions.  Note that his species produces much shorter stolons and tight, weed-resistant clumps.  Its small, round leaves are less than one quarter of the size (hence, gracilis) of typical Packera aurea leaves that we have all come to love, or fear, from the nursery trade.  The second picture shows Packera aurea var. gracilis on the left and the typical Packera aurea on the right.  Observe the different root structures, leaf size, and density.  The Packera aurea var. gracilis sample was grown from seed collected in Maryland from a colony growing on  top of a gravelly road cut through a shale barren at about 2000′ elevation with Zizia aptera and Sassafras albidum as its close associates, which is quite different from the “normal” Packera aurea that thrives in mucky ditches and in saturated meadows where Geranium maculatum and Symplocarpus foetidus are frequent associates.  A well-established colony of Packera aurea var. gracilis inhabits the gravelly shore line of a small lake in upper Bucks County, PA and can be easily observed despite being mown regularly.

Packera aurea var. gracilis offers tremendous potential as a flowering, evergreen groundcover in sunny, normal-to-dry garden soils in that it grows and spreads in a much more controlled manner and is much more weed resistant than its aggressive “common” counterpart Packera aurea.

The Packera genus is rich with species ranging from Alaska to Florida and from Labrador to southern California with plenty of movement, hybrids, and intergrades.

For a rapidly-growing flowering evergreen groundcover that can tolerate ample shade, the “common” Packera aurea species is hard to beat, as the following picture attests.  But if you want a Packera aurea that is better behaved and can stand the sun, try our new Packera aurea var. gracilis.

Packera aurea USDA map.

All plant images © 2012-2019 ArcheWild.

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