Pixies: A Sure Sign of Spring on Long Island

Entry and photos by Steve Young.

Mid-April is the flowering time of the rare Pixiemoss, Pyxidanthera barbulata. In New York there are only two locations, on Long Island, but only one of them has a significant number of plants. This tiny plant grows in low clumps on the ground in open grassland areas of pitch pine-oak woods.  It is in the Diapensia family with a close relative, Diapensia lapponica var. lapponica, that grows in the alpine areas of the Adirondacks. Long Island is at the northern edge of the range of Pyxidanthera, a coastal plant ranging from Long Island south to South Carolina, except for Maryland and Delaware. The Adirondacks and White Mountains are at the southern range of the mostly Canadian plant Diapensia. Close cousins that will never meet!

Click on the photos below for a larger version.

In its habitat a clump of Pixies could be mistaken for an open area of white pebbles or even a small mound of snow.

Here is a closer view of a clump of the tightly-packed white flowers.

You can see how small the flowers are here but there are a lot of them.

Diapensia flowers are on flower stalks but Pixie flowers are sessile and close to the ground. Their flat anthers have two parallel anther sacs on top.

These plants are in bud and show the tiny moss-like leaves that are widest above the middle and have a sharp tip. Without flowers or fruits they could be mistaken for a clump of moss.

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