The Third Large White Flower

Twinleaf and bloodroot  are well past blooming now, but their cousin mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum, Berberidaceae) is just getting started.

All three have large white flowers (one inch across or more) with yellow stamens; the flowers are borne singly on long stems. Twinleaf flowers usually have eight petals and stamens, bloodroot has eight to sixteen petals and numerous stamens, and mayapple has six to nine petals and numerous stamens.

young mayapple plants

 

 

bloodroot leaves

 

 

 

Bloodroot leaves, when older and fully opened, are sometimes confused with mayapple leaves.

 

 

twinleaf

 

 

 

 

Younger bloodroot leaves are sometimes not as elaborately lobed; possibly they could be mistaken for twinleaf, but it’s not likely.

 

 

 

Mayapple reproduction is mostly vegetative: the rhizomes form colonies, often vast, from which individual stems with single leaves emerge. But these plants don’t bloom. If you find some blooming, look at the plants and you’ll see that the stem forks and bears two leaves, with the flower growing at the junction. Only the two-leaved specimens will have flowers, though not all of them will.

Maypple can be found in rich, moist woodlands from the easternmost parts of the Great Plains to the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico into Ontario and Quebec. It’s endangered in Florida.

Consanguinity?

Yesterday’s post had a quote about twinleaf being distinct from Sanguinaria and Podophyllum. All three have their similarities, especially in the flower, which in each case is large and white with numerous petals. Twinleaf is in the genus Jeffersonia, which has only two species, while both Sanguinaria and Podophyllum are (currently) monotypic genera. The latter is represented by P. peltatum, mayapple or maypop, which like twinleaf is placed in the barberry family (Berberidaceae). The former is represented by S. canadensis, bloodroot, which is in the poppy family (Papaveraceae) and blooming now in the Maryland piedmont. I’ll write about maypop once they’re blooming and I can get some pictures.

Bloodroot is a perennial plant that forms colonies from the rhizome, so more likely than not if you find one, you’ll find others nearby. The roots contain a reddish-orange sap, hence the name Sanguinaria, which means bleeding. The plant stands a little less than a foot tall, with a single multi-lobed basal leaf that emerges with the single flower stalk; while still young the leaf clasps the stem, but as the flower fades it opens fully. Although it doesn’t have the mirror-image symmetry of the twinleaf, you can see why early botanists might have considered the two closely related. (Until fairly recently, taxonomy was based largely on flower and fruit morphology.)

The flower can be large (up to three inches in diameter), with eight or more petals, two sepals, numerous stamens, and a single pistil.

Bloodroot is one of the spring ephemerals, and has a wide native range, occurring in some areas to the west of the Mississippi River but primarily east of it, from northern Florida north into Canada. It’s listed as exploitably vulnerable in New York and special concern in Rhode Island.

Twinleaf Again

In 1792, when Thomas Jefferson was serving as the US Secretary of State, his botanist friend Benjamin Smith Barton decided that twinleaf must be in a genus of its own, “distinct from the Sanguinaria and the Podophyllum”*, and dubbed it Jeffersonia binata.

Twinleaf now goes by the name Jeffersonia diphylla (Berberidaceae). It isn’t exactly rare, but it isn’t common, either. It ranges from western New York south through the Appalachians to northernmost Alabama, then northwest as far as southeastern Minnesota. In all the states where it’s found, it occurs in only a handful of areas. It’s currently listed as endangered in Georgia and New Jersey, and threatened in Iowa and New York. The Biota of North America Project shows it present in Montgomery County, Maryland, and all counties to the west, but the Maryland Biodiversity project has records for it only in Montgomery, Washington, and Allegany counties.

As I wrote last week, this is a plant whose blossoms last only a few days. I saw two twinleaf flowers on Tuesday. On Thursday, a few more were blooming but were closed up tight because of the overcast. And yesterday, I saw maybe a dozen flowers, most of which were already fading and starting to set seed.

Twinleaf is a delicate-looking plant, consisting of several tall-standing basal leaves, each of which is nearly bisected into mirror image pairs. The leafless flower stem bears a single large, white flower, which has four sepals, eight petals, eight stamens, and one pistil.

The plant itself persists for another month or two past flowering before going dormant.

This is the earliest I’ve seen it blooming in the six years I’ve been tracking it.

 

 

*Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766 – 1824; Edwin Betts, editor