While researching the wildflowers of the Smokies, I came across one with a funny name: little brown jug (Hexastylis arifolia var. ruthii). If you look at the flowers, you can see why it was named that!
These flowers are brown and jug-shaped! (Hexastylis arifolia var. ruthii, Aristolochiaceae)
This plant is in the Aristolochiaceae, or the birthwort family. Many plants in this family have medicinal compounds. For example, Hexastylis arifolia has been used for breathing problems and pain. This family usually has large heart-shaped leaves and reddish cup-shaped flowers. For Hexastylis, their reddish brown flowers are set on the ground, indicating that they are pollinated and have their seeds dispersed by crawling insects (Spira, Wildflowers & Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains & Piedmont, 2011).
Shiny, heart-shaped leaves and ground-hugging flowers are characteristic of most Eastern US Aristolochiaceae (Hexastylis arifolia var. ruthii, Aristolochiaceae)
There are five species in the genus Hexastylis in Tennessee. The defining characteristic is floral shape, especially the structure of the styles and stigma (male and female floral parts). I didn’t take photos of the inside of the flower so I was worried that I would be unable to identify the species. However, there is only one species in Sevier County: Hexastylis arifolia var. ruthii (University of Tennessee Knoxville Herbarium: Hexastylis).
Can’t see the internal floral parts as they are deep inside the flower (Hexastylis arifolia var. ruthii, Aristolochiaceae)
There are three varieties of Hexastylis arifolia: var. arifolia, var. callifolia and var. ruthii. The variety is the taxonomic rank below species and subspecies, and it usually describes unusual physical characteristics. However, all varieties can interbreed and produce viable offspring as they are the same species. Hexastylis arifolia var. arifolia has medium, urn-shaped flowers with narrow openings. Hexastylis arifolia var. callifolia has large urn-shaped flowers with broad openings. And Hexastylis arifolia var. ruthii has small round flowers (Flora of North America: Hexastylis).
The small and round flowers of the ruthii variety (Hexastylis arifolia var. ruthii, Aristolochiaceae)