Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the February 16, 2009 Newsletter, issued from near Natchez, Mississippi:

Nowadays when you're traveling down roads through our piney woods occasionally you see spectacular, bathtub- sized clusters of a vine's evergreen leaves intermingled with bright, yellow flowers ten to twenty feet above ground. Such a cluster is shown below:


This is Yellow Jessamine, GELSEMIUM SEMPERVIRENS, and back during my hermit days I couldn't write enough about it, for among native Mississippi plants this species is among the earliest-blooming of the really spectacular harbingers of spring. Often I first realized that Yellow Jessamine was flowering only when I found discarded, 4-inch-long, megaphone-shaped yellow blossoms on the ground. Learning about the flowering this way chastised me a bit, for it meant that the vine had been flowering for several days up in the canopy without my noticing. As I wrote in my February 9, 2003 Newsletter:

This fallen blossom was like the calling card left by a friend who, because of an unanswered tap at a window deep in the night, steals away giggling, knowing how you'll bite your lip when you realize how once again you've missed the fragrance she might have been willing to share.

And Yellow Jessamine's blossoms really are fragrant, and the vines produce flowers for a long time. In 2002 I already had noted them blossoming at Christmas, but the peak of flowering came only in mid March. In that Newsletter I wrote:

Now Yellow Jessamine is in its glory. Sometimes you see absolutely spectacular displays and if the background is the blue sky or the forest's black shadow, and the yellow flowers are in direct sunlight, you just have to stand and look."

What a joy that this week I've seen exactly that, and was able to capture some of the feeling for you, shown below:

Yellow Jessamine, GELSEMIUM SEMPERVIRENS, flowers

Yellow Jessamine is mostly a Deep South species, not making it as far north as my childhood home area in Kentucky, or even most of Tennessee. That's a little surprising when you see how robust and common it is here.

Yellow Jessamine used to reside in the same family as Buddleia Butterfly-Bush, but recent studies have noted that its features are so unique that it's been shifted into its own family, the Gelsemiaceae, on the Tree of Life positioned not far from the Gentian Family.