Trientalis borealis

Starflower

One Flowered Wintergreen, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and  Kenneth J. Sytsma
Starflower
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and Kenneth J. Sytsma

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


Name:

  • Trientalis, a Latin adjective meaning "that contains a third of a foot". Some claim this is a reference to the height of the plant which, at about 4" is about 1/3 of a foot.
  • borealis, from the Greek, boreios (boreios), "from the quarter of the North wind, northern"
  • Common name from the multi-pointed white flower.
  • Other common names include May Star, Star-of-Bethlehem, Trientale boréale (Qué)

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Dilleniidae
        • Order Primulales
          • Family Primulaceae, the Primroses
            • Genus Trientalis, the Starflowers
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 24053
  • Also known as Trientalis americana

Description:

  • A a low perennial from slender, creeping rhizomes, 4 "- 8" tall.
  • Leaves simple, long, narrow, and lanceolate; about ¾" wide and up to 4" long; widest in the middle, tapering to a pointed tip and narrow, stalkless or short-stalked base. Leaf edge toothless or finely toothed. Leaves borne in a single, unequal whorl of 5-9 at stem tip, with a few small, scale-like leaves below.
  • Stem simple, slender, and erect, hairless or with tiny glands.
  • Roots fibrous
  • Flowers white, star-shaped; ½" across, with 1-3 flowers on slender stalk rising from center of leaf whorl. Flower parts typically 7, occasionally 5 or 9.
    • Sepals 7, narrow and pointed
    • Petals 7, lance-shaped to egg-shaped with long-pointed tips
    • Stamens 7, with bright yellow tips
  • Fruit a dry, brown, spherical, 5-chambered, few-seeded capsule.
  • Seed ripening mid-summer and dispersed by wind.
  • One of the few flowers with seven petals.

Identification:

  • Unlike anything else in the North Country.
  • Field Marks
    • single whorl of 5-9 leaves
    • white, star-shaped flower of 7 petals

Distribution:

  • SE Canada and NE US, south through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, northern Georgia, and North Carolina.

Habitat:

  • Deciduous, coniferous, or mixed forest; cedar swamps and bogs.
  • Dry or moist sites in sandy, acid (pH 5-6) soil with open shade.

Fire:

Associates:

History:

Uses:

Reproduction:

  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes
  • Flowers July/August
  • Pollination by Bumblebees (Bombus spp)
  • Seed dispersal probably by wind

Propagation:

  • By seed, started in July in a mix of acid peat and sand in cold frame
  • By division in early spring

Cultivation:

  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • open shade
    • loose organic/sandy, acidic soil
    • medium to moist conditions
  • Can be very slow to establish, but spreads to form colony after several years.
  • Good for low groundcover in duff under pines, or in moist, acidic woodland gardens.
  • Occasionally available by mail order from specialty suppliers.

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Last Updated on 28 September, 2002