Wildflower Tales-Twinleaf

IMG_3391 Love is like wildflowers; It’s often found in the most unlikely places.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


All the signs of fall cropping up recently have me harkening back to spring and thinking of changes I want to make in my garden.  With my job this year has left me little time in the garden especially this summer.  I am hopeful for a slow down as October rolls around where I have time to think and design, but that means the good fall weather needs to hold on long into November.

I also started reminiscing about wildflowers I love that I should profile.  So in honor of Wildflower Wednesday, hosted by Gail@Clay and IMG_3356Limestone, I am showcasing a little known wildflower that is threatened in many areas, Jeffersonia diphylla or Twinleaf part of the Barberry Family (Berberidaceae).

Jeffersonia which is also known as rheumatism root, is a small genus of perennial plants.  It is named in honor of Thomas Jefferson by his friend and fellow botanist William Bartram.  When spring comes around, I look with the anticipation for the purple beginnings of this strange plant as they emerge from the soil.  As they grow they green up with telltale purple stems.  Above you can still see the purple outlines of the leaf that eventually fade as the seasons progress.

This plant grows directly from the rhizome at the base of the plant not from a stem.  The leaves grow in pairs, and the single flower resembles that of the Bloodroot flower.

Twinleaf is a wonderful addition to woodland, shade and native plant gardens. As this plant grows in it can become a great groundcover for shady areas.




Growing Conditions

In April, when the blue green, deeply lobed leaves have reached a height of 1 foot, a fragile eight-petaled flower appears on a leafless stalk.  But the flowers don’t last long so be sure to pay attention for them before the wind or rain knocks them down.  Twinleaf likes moist humusy soil in part and full shade.  I have it nestled in my wildflower garden that is up against the North side of the house.

IMG_3430To keep this plant happy, do not let the soil to dry out, or mulch the soil to help keep the roots cool.  Twinleaf is not considered a spring ephemeral because the leaves remain until the first killing frost.  There are no serious pest or diseases that plague this plant, and I find little slug damage on mine.

This plant is easily grown from seed although seedlings can take up to 5 years to mature into a flowering plant.  The plant can also be divided in fall.  To gather seed look for the pear-shaped fruit that pops open when ripe to reveal the seed.  The seed doesn’t keep long so within a month you will want to plant them.  I let them fall naturally to grow more Twinleaf.




Where Are They Found

Twinleaf can be found from Ontario, Canada and New York south to Georgia and Alabama, and northwest to Iowa and Minnesota.  It occurs IMG_0914naturally in rich, moist deciduous forests where it grows and flowers before the forest canopy appears.  The shade of summer foliage protects the plants to keep them growing through fall.

The two species of Jeffersonia are native to eastern North America (J. diphylla) and eastern Asia (J. dubia).    Twinleaf is protected as a threatened or endangered plant in Georgia, Iowa, New York, and New Jersey which is an important reason to grow this plant.




Benefits to Wildlife

IMG_3136The flowers do not produce nectar, but they do produce lots of pollen, which attracts pollinators, especially bees.

The seeds are especially attractive to ants who gather the seeds and carry them to their nests, protecting them from rodents. Deer can sometimes be drawn to the leaves where they can completely defoliate the plant.  The plant will survive, but not flower the following year.  I have not had problems with deer, but this plant is nestled in among wildflowers and some mint.




Folklore and Tales

Jeffersonia diphylla has been used medicinally throughout history.  Native Americans, such as the Cherokee and Iroquois, used the root as a tea for cramps, nervousness, diarrhea, a diuretic, and for sore throats. Externally it was used as a wash for sores, ulcers and inflammation. IMG_3432The plant is thought to be toxic so use caution.  Modern medicine does not currently use this plant!

Traditional Chinese medicine does use Jeffersonia dubia for strengthening the stomach and bringing down fevers.

The root of Jeffersonia diphylla contains an anti-tumor alkaloid.

Twinleaf does not have a specific Language of Flowers meaning so I am using the meaning given to its family, Barberry which is Sourness of Temper.  Not a great name for such a wonderful underutilized plant.



“Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair…”   ~Susan Polis Schutz


Check out other posts in the series, Wildflower Tale:

August-Anise Hyssop

July-Joe Pye



April-Shooting Stars

March-Common Yarrow


January-Virginia Bluebell


Next up on the blog:  Monday is time for another garden review in a Gardens Eye Journal post wrapping up September.

I am guest blogging over at Vision and Verb.  See my post.  I hope you will visit this wonderful website of women writers.

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now.  Tuesday brings my next post.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

50 Replies to “Wildflower Tales-Twinleaf”

  1. wildflowers are my favorite, by far, of all growing things…..there is something so earthy and exciting
    about happening upon bloomers and their seed pods
    just thriving without anyone’s fingerprints all over them.
    I love their un-fussy way.
    Thanks for this walk down a beautiful path
    with you,

  2. I was getting quite excited as I thought I had found a plant for our woodland. Although the conditions are right I don’t want to introduce something not native to this area. Of course if it were to creep further west I would be delighted. I read your post at Vision and Verb. I’ll have to remember that bit about the path opening up after you fall, I think it is true, it just takes me a bit of wasted time to realise it. It will be a lot easier to say “remember what Donna said”.

    1. Oh Susan I am sorry that this is not a native plant for you. Hopefully you will find the right plant soon.

      I am so glad you read the Vision and Verb post and liked it. And it touches my heart that it had great meaning for you!

  3. It’s a wonderful little wildflower and needs to be planted more it its native range. So many of our native plants have medicinal qualities; we really would be smart to take better care of them and the Earth. Gail

    1. I agree Gail especially with Twinleaf. It is a great plant within its native range and it is becoming rare due to loss of habitat.

  4. A new plant for me – lovely post Donna. It’s interesting how many plants were used as medicine in the past, but are no longer used.

    1. Interesting and sad Cathy that we no longer use these plants. I wish we would rediscover their potential. Such a loss.

  5. You mentioned in the comment to Gail that it is rare due to loss of habitat. If it lives in forests, do you mean forests are being lost? I have to start looking for it on my hikes. The Garden Club has it planted at their wildflower garden, but I never asked if t was there to start or they planted it.

    1. Actually Donna it a loss of forests and also threatened by invasives now growing in the forest that are left in many areas. I hope to plant more as it is an amazing plant.

  6. New info for me…. I do have a deer issue here, but this year less so as the rain kept a lot of browse available…ps… Am reading the book on frost…. Michelle

    1. We had virtually no deer browsing I think because of all the rain. The deer have kept under cover…I hope you like the book.

  7. Thanks for sharing this bounty of information Donna. I have not noticed this plant growing here, but that does not mean it isn’t around… now I’ll look for it, cool!

  8. Your garden is already so arranged and nice and you are still thinking of re-designing it :-). Ah! we gardeners are all alike. The flowers look so dainty. The leaves look so familiar to me, but can’t place it. Need to see if I can find to buy this plant anywhere or not. From where do you buy all these native plants?

    1. I get many natives from local nurseries and the rest online.

      My gardens need a bit of culling and work so the aggressives natives behave.

  9. I just wanted to add the information that sometimes native plant species can be found at Audubon Society’s around the country when they do a plant sale. (Ours does one twice year and sells only native plants.) Since we have a lot of cool, damp weather and a lot of shade gardens next to streams, it’s great to find these gorgeous little–often really delicate–plants. The trouble we have around here is that English ivy will often overtake them. Ivy can be a real bully in the plant world.

    1. Great point Susie. There are many local native plant societies as well. I have not had time to get too involved with mine but they have an annual plant sale. I need to start potting up so many of my natives to give to them for their sale one of these years.

      Your point about ivy is well taken. Twinleaf has lost much of its forest habitat and the forests that remain in many states are being overrun with invasives like ivy that are claiming the rest of their habitat. Big reason it is endangered in so many states. And another reason to be careful what plants we grow that can escape and become quite invasive and to remember to be careful how we dispose of them.

  10. What an exquisite little plant. Everything about it is really very beautiful. I haven’t met this plant before, but I shall make a point of seeking it out. Thank you!

  11. I have seen twinleaf in books but not in any nursery. I keep looking as it is native to my area as well. Your photos give it a dimension I have not seen before and make it look all the more attractive.

  12. I’ve seen Twinleaf, but I don’t have it in my garden. It’s a lovely plant, and thanks for sharing more information about it. I especially like the foliage–and, as you say, it’s fascinating form and color as it emerges from the soil.

    1. It is hard to find it in the wild in NY, but I would love to see it in some lovely woods one day. Great plant for moist woods Beth.

    1. Yes Frances those leaves were the first thing I loved about this plant. Then when I saw the lovely delicate flower, it was such an added bonus!

  13. What a nice plant. I live in the middle of the conditions where this plant should be growing. I shall be on the look out for it as could be in our woods without my knowledge as we don’t frequent the woods….

  14. Lovely little bloom… I’m always on the lookout for white blossoms as they seem to brighten the landscape. Unfortunately we have a deer problem that I need to consider… love the creatures in my gardens… don’t love their nibbling. As always, your post is brimming with excellent information.

  15. its pretty, delicate with such attractive foliage and worthy of your focus Donna- if only it were wild to here. Looks nothing like Barberry I know of which is our Berberis – sourness of temper? That I do know about 😉

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