On the western side of the Flatwoods Trail there is a little patch of one of the varieties of wild coffee, Psychotria sulzneri, commonly known as shortleaf wild coffee. Plans were to plant some more of another variety commonly known as just “wild coffee”, Psychotria nervosa, just up the trail a bit next to a wild coffee id sign we installed. Before we got to it, another herbaceous plant with opposite leaves sprung up in the clearing. In the early stages of its growth the plant appeared very similar to what the line drawing of the coffee on the sign looked like to anyone not familiar with the wild coffee. We were even fooled into thinking it may have been seedlings of American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, which also has a similar toothed opposite leaf.
Once the plant developed flowers we were able to quickly id our newcomer as sandpaper or harsh vervain, Verbena scabra, of the vervain family (Verbenaceae). Really quite lovely, this plant has delicate spikes of tiny pink to lavender flowers. The stems are square and ridged. The leaves as the name might imply are rough like sandpaper on the surface, coarsely toothed, and arranged opposite of each other. It is commonly found in wet pine lands or disturbed sites.
As for the potential look a likes, also in the Verbenaceae family the American beautyberry also has opposite leaves with coarse teeth but the stems are rounded and the flowers are borne in a cluster in the axils of the leaves, see how similar the foliage is to the Verbena.
In the Rubiaceae family (buttonbush is also in this family), the shortleaf wild coffee also has opposite leaves. Their clusters of flowers typically develop at the end of the stems. The shortleaf wild coffee is easily distinguished from its relative wild coffee. The leaves of shortleaf wild coffee are not really shorter but velvety and matte in comparison with wild coffee who’s leaves are shiny and often puckered or pleated in appearance from deeply inset veins on the leaf surface. More on wild coffee and its history of use in the future.
Noting opposite leaf arrangement on a plant is often a helpful way to identify species or rule out look a likes.