Thursday, May 16, 2013


© Dave Spier

Threeleaf Goldthread (Coptis trifolia, synonym Coptis groenlandica) is a small woodland wildflower of cool bogs, swamps, and mixed coniferous-hardwood forests in the north. Its distribution includes Alaska, most of Canada, Greenland and the Northeast U.S. The descriptor "threeleaf" is somewhat misleading because each evergreen blade is deeply three-lobed, or compound in effect. The common name "goldthread" refers to the long, underground rhizome that is bright golden yellow. Another common name for this species is "yellow root."

Each flower has five to seven white sepals that can be mistaken for petals. The actual petals are yellow-tipped, club-like and smaller than the numerous male stamens. Three long, green, bulb-tipped, female pistils alternate with the petals. Goldthread is a member of the Ranunculaceae or Buttercup (Crowfoot) family which is characterized by numerous stamens forming a button or bushy cluster in the center of the regular [radially symetrical] flower.

Goldthread is an evergreen herb, an adaptation allowing it to take advantage of additional sunlight in early spring and late fall whenever temperatures are above freezing an when any deciduous trees are leafless. That's not much help where it grows under coniferous canopies, though.

Additional information can be found on pages 108-109 in the book Adirondack Upland Flora by Michael Kudish. The median flowering date in the Adirondacks is/was May 20 (subject to change in response to global warming). The plant can be found at a wide range of elevations and often near bogs or other cool, moist habitats with acidic soil.

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