Menyanthes trifoliata

Buckbean

Menyanthes trifoliata, Scottish Highlands, Photo © 2000 by Earl J.S. Rook
Menyanthes trifoliata
Scottish Highlands
Photo © 2000 by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


Name:

  • Menyanthes, from the Greek, meis (meis), "month", and 'anqew (antheô), "bloom." From Linnaeus, it suggests that the plant remains in flower for a month; though it often blooms May through July.
  • trifoliata, from the Latin, tri, "three", and foliatus, "provided with or having leaves"; hence, "three leaved", which aptly describes the form of this plant.
  • Buckbean, probably from the resemblance of the foliage to that of the beans grown in cottage gardens. At least, English herbalist John Gerard (1545-1607) thought so.
  • Other common names include: Bogbean, Marsh Trefoil, Water Trefoil, Marsh Clover, Bukkeblad (Dan), BocksBoonan, (Dutch), Ubaleht, Soouba, Jġeuba, Raakelehed, Allikakapsad (Est), Raate, Raatteet (Fin), Trì-bhileach (Gaelic), Bocksbohne, Fieberklee, Scharbocks-Klee (Ger), Kuanniisat, Qunguliusaq (Greenland), Reiðingsgras (Is), Bukkeblad (Nor), Vachta Trojlistá (Slovak), Vattenklöver, Bläcken (Swe)

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Asteridae
        • Order Solanales
          • Family Menyanthaceae, the
            • Genus Menyanthes, the Bogbeans
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 30102

Description:

  • A glabrous hardy lakeshore perennial of shallow water.
  • Leaves all basal, palmately trifoliate, with sheathing petiole bases arranged alternately on the rhizomes. Leaflets oblong/elliptical, of smooth edge, 2"-4" long and 1"-2" wide, on long, fleshy, striated leaf stalks.
  • Stem procumbent and creeping, covered by the sheaths of the leaves.
  • Roots creeping rootstock, rhizome thick, marked by old leaf bases.
  • Flower perfect and regular,outwardly rose/pink, inwardly white and fringed, ¾" across; conspicuous on a thick spike, 6"-18" high, rising above the leaves. Stamens red, usually 5.
  • Fruit a round, corky-walled capsule, 1/4"-3/8" in diameter, containing many shiny, yellow-brown seeds.

Identification:

  • A waterside plant unlike any other, even when not in bloom.
  • Fleshy, creeping stem and three part leaf are distinctive.

Distribution:

  • Circumboreal; south in North.America to Delaware, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, South Dakota, and California.
  • Found in suitable habitat across Europe; rather scarce in the south of England, though common in the north and Scotland (see photo above).

Habitat:

  • Fens and old bogs; edges of ponds and moist soils; shallow waters
  • Common in sunny shallows near portage landings.

Associates:

History:

  • Thought to be a remedy for scurvy, its German name, Scharbock, is a corruption of the Latin scorbutus, an old name for the disease.
  • Used as an herbal treatment of rheumatism, osteo-arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Used as herbal tea and herbal tobacco.

Uses:

  • Though its centuries of use have generated a rather long list of herbal and folk medicine applications, its primary use today is as a water garden ornamental.

Reproduction:

  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes
  • Flowers May to July; fruit ripens June/August.

Propagation:

  • By rhizome division,

Cultivation:

  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries
  • An easily grown water garden plant which will also do well in peat if kept constantly moist.

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Last updated on 26 February, 2004