Goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae)
Description: This annual plant is about ½–4' tall. Medium to large plants (greater than 1½' tall) branch occasionally, while small plants (less than 1½' tall) are often unbranched. The central and lateral stems are hairless. Alternate leaves are up to 6" long and 4" across; they are ovate or deltoid-ovate with 2-4 large teeth along their margins. These teeth are pointed and widely spaced. The uppermost leaves are more narrow and may have only 0-1 teeth along their margins. The widely spreading leaves are medium to dark green and hairless; they are not white-mealy on their undersides. The leaf tips are pointed, while their bases are truncate or slightly indented. The slender petioles are up to 1" long. The central stem and upper lateral stems terminate in panicles of sessile clustered flowers. In addition to these, there are usually secondary panicles that develop from the axils of the upper leaves. The branches of these panicles can be hairless or conspicuously hairy. Individual flowers are green or greenish white and only 1/8" (3 mm.) across, consisting of 5 sepals, 5 stamens, and a flattened ovary with a pair of tiny styles at its apex. There are no petals. The sepals are ovate and slightly keeled. The blooming period can occur from late spring into the fall. On an individual plant in bloom, the flowers are at different stages of development. Pollination is by wind. The persistent sepals only partially cover the developing seeds; there is only one seed per flower. Each seed is covered with a thin membrane that is easily removed. Individual seeds are flattened, circular in circumference, and shiny black; they are 1.5–2.0 mm. across. The root system consists of a taproot. This plant spreads into new areas by reseeding itself.
Cultivation: The preference is dappled sunlight to medium shade and mesic to dry conditions. While this plant is usually found on rocky ground, it will adapt to ordinary garden soil. Depending on the fertility of the soil and moisture conditions, the size of individual plants can vary considerably.
Range & Habitat: Maple-Leaved Goosefoot is uncommon to occasional in most areas of Illinois, except in the east-central section of the state, where it is rare or absent (see Distribution Map). This is a native plant. Habitats include rocky upland woodlands, shaded or semi-shaded ledges of cliffs, bottoms of thinly wooded bluffs, recently logged or burned woodlands, woodland openings, shaded to semi-shaded areas of rocky glades, thickets, and fence rows. Maple-Leaved Goosefoot is often found in high quality habitats, but it also occurs in disturbed areas. This is one of the less weedy Chenopodium spp.
Faunal Associations: Little is known about floral-faunal relationships for this unusual woodland plant, although several moths, skippers, and leaf beetles are known to feed on Chenopodium spp. primarily in weedy open areas. The Bobwhite and several sparrows eat the seeds of these species, while White-Tailed Deer occasionally browse on the foliage.
Photographic Location: Ledge of a sandstone cliff at the Portland Arch in west-central Indiana.
Comments: Maple-Leaved Goosefoot (Chenopodium simplex) has very distinctive leaves, which makes it is easy to recognize. These leaves are usually larger in size than those of many other Chenopodium spp., and they usually have 1-4 pairs of widely spaced large teeth. Other Chenopodium spp. have leaves with smaller teeth or their leaves lack teeth altogether. Unlike Maple-Leaved Goosefoot, these latter species often have white-mealy leaf undersides, white-mealy upper stems, and/or white-mealy sepals. They are usually found in sunny disturbed areas rather than woodlands. The American species, Maple-Leaved Goosefoot (Chenopodium simplex), closely resembles a European species with the same common name, Chenopodium hybridum (Maple-Leaved Goosefoot), but it has a different number of chromosomes. The American species is sometimes referred to as Chenopodium gigantospermum, which refers to its relatively large seeds for species in this genus.