Yerba de selva means “herb of the forest” in Spanish and is an appropriate common name for a plant that prefers shaded places in the forested Coast Ranges from Monterey California to Washington State.
A native perennial, yerba de selva (Whipplea modesta) has a long, trailing root system from which grow many erect shoots, each tipped with a small head of crowded white flowers. The main stem is somewhat woody with grey-brown bark peeling in narrow strips. The shoots are weak and slender.
The oval to egg-shaped yerba de selva leaves are opposite, semi-deciduous, slightly toothed and covered in coarse hairs. Leaves remain on the stems after withering.
Each inflorescence contains 5 to 12 flowers. The flowers have 4 to 6 erect sepals, 5 to 6 spreading petals, 8 to 12 stamens and a 4 to 5 celled inferior ovary.
Yerba de selva fruits are rounded capsules with one honeycomb pitted seed in each of the 4 or 5 chambers.
A member of the Hydrangea Family (Hydrangeaceae), yerba de selva can be considered as a wildflower, vine or shrub. It is often sold commercially as a ground cover.
Whipplea modesta is the only member of its genus, named after Lieutenant AW Whipple (1818-1863), the Commander of the Pacific Railroad Expedition of 1853 to 1854. The species designation, modesta, is Latin for modesty. The reason for this species designation is uncertain, but modesty is another of the many common names for yerba de selva. Whipplea, common whipplea and whipplevine are other colloquial names.
These yerba de selva were photographed along the South Fork Trail in Prairie Creek State/National Redwood Park CA in May.