Leafless Wintergreen

Leafless wintergreen, as I tried to explain yesterday, is a pyrola that has been assigned the scientific name, Pyrola aphylla, by botanists. It may be a leafless form of white-veined wintergreen and/or pink wintergreen, or the separate appellation, P. aphylla, may be justified. Only once DNA analysis is completed will leafless wintergreen’s true identity be revealed.

A member of the heath family, leafless wintergreen is native and can be found throughout the western United States and has moved as far as the Atlantic Ocean in some places. It is abundant in forests with dead wood and deep compost.

The red flower stems of leafless wintergreen shoot up from the nodes of creeping rhizomes. There are no leaves on the single stems, only a few papery bracts. The flowers have five petals and can be a greenish white color (like white-veined wintergreen), pink or dark red (like pink wintergreen,  P. asarifolia) or a shade in between. The cup-shaped flowers droop downward like little bells. The style (part of the female organ) is longer than the stamens (pollen-bearing part of male organ) and is curved and strongly bent downwards. In one reference the leafless wintergreen style was described as looking like the clapper on a bell.

In folklore various preparations of leafless wintergreen were used as astringents (tightener of soft body tissues) to stop bleeding and in the treatment of throat inflammations, urinary diseases, hemorrhoids, and insect bites.

I think leafless wintergreen is a beautiful plant, even without a basal rosette of leaves. The leaves of white-veined wintergreen (P. picta) are deep green, leathery and mottled along the vein lines, very similar to the leaves of rattlesnake orchid with which it is often confused. Leafless wintergreen and rattlesnake orchid often grow together.

Like the previous leafless wintergreen picture, these photos were taken along the North Umpqua Trail in Oregon near the Boundary Waters.

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One Response to Leafless Wintergreen

  1. Pingback: White-veined Wintergreen | The Nature Niche

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