Schwalbea americana

Common Names:
American chaffseed, Chaffseed
Growth Habit:
CPC Number:
Profile Contributors:
Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
Fully Sponsored

Reference Links

ITIS - Tropicos - USDA Plants - Fish & WildLife

Participating Institutions

The following Participating Institutions are custodians for this species in the CPC National Collection:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Bok Tower Gardens

The conservation of Schwalbea americana is fully sponsored.
Elizabeth J. Farnsworth contributed to this Plant Profile.


A tall, perennial herb in the figwort family, this plant is distinguished by its large, purplish-yellow, tubular flowers. Schwalbea americana is a hemiparasite that feeds from the roots of a range of associated woody species. Once known historically from the coastal plain extending from Massachusetts to Florida, the species now only occurs at 51 sites and 15 distinct populations in New Jersey, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi, where it is threatened by residential development, road-building, inappropriate mowing regimes, over-collection, and fire suppression.

Research and Management Summary:
A number of individuals and institutions have studied many aspects of the ecology of this plant, including how to best manage for the species where it occurs.

Plant Description:
Schwalbea americana is an erect, perennial herb with unbranched stems that grows to a height of 80 cm (30 inches). It is densely but minutely hairy throughout, including the flowers. The alternate, 2-4 cm-long leaves are lance-shaped, untoothed, and clasp the stem. The irregular, tubular flowers, which are yellow-purple and 15-22 mm long, subtended by two small leaves (bracts) and borne singly on short stalks (pedicels). The fruit is a stout capsule 10-12 mm long, enclosed in a loose-fitting sac-like structure that gives the plant its common name, chaffseed. The green seeds are 2-6 mm long, straight, and narrow (Small 1933, Pennell 1935, Musselman and Mann 1978, Vincent 1982, Kral 1983, Gleason and Cronquist 1991).

Distribution & Occurrence


Conservation, Ecology & Research