The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 30, 2008


Star flower


(Photo by Marjorie Johnson)

There are lots of wild flowers in bloom right now. I saw my first pink lady slipper of the season on May 16 in the Estabrook Woods and also a large clump of brightly colored red and yellow columbine. There are many patches of wood anemones in full bloom along the Otter Slide trail at the Cranberry Bog and the rue anemones are out in the Towle Woods. The violets in the Towle Field are coming out as the Pussy Toes are fading. Of the many spring flowers, one that is widespread and you are quite likely to find on your own property is the star flower. Marjorie Johnson sent me a photo of a star flower blooming at her place on Ember Lane on May 16. The bloom season lasts from May into July or even later.

Name. Star flower is Trientalis borealis. It is native to North America and a member of the primrose family. It is also known as the northern star flower and the American starflower. Its counterpart, Trientalis europaea, is the European starflower. Both species are sometimes called chickweed-wintergreen even though they don’t resemble either chickweed or wintergreen.

Description. Star flower is six to nine inches tall. The single stem has a whorl of five to nine leaves at the top (resembling a kind of green star), and above the leaves are one or more white star-shaped flowers. It is common for the plant to have just a single flower but it is not too hard to find some that have two or even three.

The individual flowers also have some variability with anywhere from five to nine sepals and five to nine petals. Marjorie found flowers with six, seven and eight petals. It can spread both by seed, and vegetatively by a creeping underground stolon. It prefers shady locations in moist acid woodland soils.

Emerson. When I was a teenager living in the country in the south of New Zealand where the night sky was dark and the stars were bright, I read what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about stars and copied it into a notebook which I still peruse from time to time. “If the Stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

Last Sunday, May 25, was the 205th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I now live near his birthplace but in a time when the night sky is polluted with artificial light. Today, Emerson’s sentiment about the stars can be applied to the star flowers – every spring these envoys of beauty come out and light the forest floor with their admonishing smile.

Sources. Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States, Carol H. Woodward & Harold William Rickett; Newcombe’s Wildflower Guide, Lawrence Newcomb; Wyman’s Gardening Encyclopedia, Donald Wyman. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito