Fringe Cups

Fringe cups (Tellima grandiflora) is a perennial native belonging to the Saxifrage Family. They so closely resemble plants in the genus Mitella (bishop’s caps) that their genus, Tellima, is an anagram of Mitella. The species name, grandiflora, means “large flowers” in Latin. Fringe cups flowers themselves are not large, but there are a large number of them in the inflorescence.

Also commonly known as false alum root and bigflower tellima, T grandiflora is found below 5,000 feet in Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana. It habitat is moist woods, streambanks and wet rocky areas.

Fringe cups flowering stems arise from short rhizomes, grow to three feet in length and are spreading. (The entire plant blends into the surrounding herbage, so I did not include a photograph of a complete specimen.) The stems and leaves are hairy.

There are many maple-shaped, purple tinged basal leaves with long stalks. The cauline (stem) leaves are smaller and fewer. In warm winters the leaves may be semi-evergreen.

The fringe cups inflorescence is a terminal raceme with many flowers loosely spaced along one side of the stem. The flowers have five petals that begin greenish white in color and age to a brownish red. The petals are strap-like with fringed tips and are reflexed over the greenish calyx (sepals). The flowers have ten stamens and an ovary with a two-beaked style.

The fruits are capsules with numerous, wrinkled and warty seeds.

Fringe cups are widely planted as ornamentals. Native Americans made a tea from fringe cup plants which they used for a variety of illnesses, especially lack of appetite. Because they contain an ellagitannin, fringe cups may have some antiviral properties.

In May these fringe cup specimens were photographed near the Fern Canyon Trailhead at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California.

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