The dappled woods of certain Eastern forests are home to an unusual little wildflower which has a very distinctive appearance: Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) graces rich bottom lands, often in proximity to limestone outcroppings.
With leaves that resemble the wings of delicate green butterflies, the plant grows in colonies similar to mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and blooms when it is about six to eight inches tall . To view its lovely white flowers, one has to be either very fortunate or plan carefully to view previously identified locations where the plant lives, as the flowers only bloom a few short days in the spring and the petals drop in the least spring rain or breeze. At first glance, it appears the plant has two leaves but they are actually one deeply divided leaf, creating distinctive spring foliage that does not resemble any other plant growing at the same time. The flower has been compared to bloodroot (Sanguinaria canandensis) which also has a white bloom but the foliage quickly distinguishes the two plants. After blooming, the plant continues to grow (up to 18 inches) and creates a small seed capsule with a lid that opens when the seeds mature. They also spread by underground rhizomes, hence the large groups which can occur in undisturbed forests.
The botanist Benjamin James Bartram named the plant in honor of his contemporary and friend Thomas Jefferson who reportedly appreciated the diminutive beauty of the plant; of course, Eastern woodland tribes (Cherokee to the south, Haudenosaunee to the north and the Virginia tribes and many others in between) were likely familiar with the plant long before Bartram or Jefferson came to admire it.
Medicinally, the Indigenous people likely knew of twinleaf's healing properties for rheumatism, hence one of its common names, "rheumatism root".
A lovely patch of Jeffersonia can be found at the Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville, VA. They grow along the Bluebell Trail in a spot between the river and a small cliff about a half mile from the trail head.
The Virginia Native Plant Society honored Jeffersonia dyphylla as its 1999 plant of the year.
By Barnes Dr Thomas G, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - http://www.public-domain-image.com/public-domain-images-pictures-free-stock-photos/photography-studio-public-domain-images-pictures/close-up-of-white-blossom-twinleaf-flowers.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24916257
The Reading Corner
Where Naturalists Go On Long Winter Nights!
Click Here To Check Out Our Reading Suggestions
Have a blog or blog idea?
Let us know (click here)
ORMN Class IX