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Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

Heath Family, Ericaceae
Pipsissewa, Chimaphila umbellata (L.) W. P. C. Barton (left). The pipsissewa, or prince’s pine, is a shade-loving, evergreen plant that bears attractive parasol-shaped, five-petaled pink flowers. As with our other wintergreens, it grows in cool forest surroundings. The species name Chimaphila, means “winter-lover” derived from its evergreen properties. This and other wintergreens have long been used medicinally both topically and in beverages, probably without any real therapeutic benefit. A related plant, the little prince’s pine (Chimaphila menziesii [R. Br. ex D. Don] Spreng., not shown) occurs in the mountains of central and northern Idaho. It has few flowers and its leaves are broadest near the base of the blade.

Pink wintergreen, Pyrola asarifolia Michx. (right). This generic name Pyrola was derived from a Latin pyrus, for “pear” because of similar shaped leaves in some species of wintergreen. The name asarifolia suggests that the leaves resemble those of the wild ginger (Asarum caudatum). The pink wintergreen is a reclusive plant, often found at higher elevations. Nodding pink flowers form a loose cluster atop a bare stem. Each has five dainty pink petals, ten stamens and a single protruding style.

Green wintergreen, Pyrola chlorantha Sw. (left). As both common and scientific names suggest, the green wintergreen has light-green petals (chlorantha, from the Greek, means “green flower”) as well as the protruding style, common to the genus. It grows in partial shade, often in conifer forests. As with other wintergreens, it blooms in mid-summer.

White-vein wintergreen, Pyrola picta Sm. (right). While this plant’s flowers are similar to those of our other pyrolas, its prominently patterned basal leaves make it stand out in the shaded forests where it grows. Most of the plants in the wintergreen family grow all across North America, but this plant is found only in the West and in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Sidebells wintergreen, Orthilia secunda (L.) House (left). This little plant, while similar to the pyrolas, has somewhat different flowers. It is easily identified because its greenish white flowers grow on only one side of the stem (secunda, from the Latin, means “turned,” or, in this context, “one sided”). It is a common plant and will be found blooming in the open shade of evergreen forests in mid- to late summer. As the name “wintergreen” implies, all of these plants are evergreen.

One-flower wintergreen, Moneses uniflora (L.) A. Gray (left, right). The one-flower wintergreen (also single-delight, wood nymph, shy-maiden, and wax-flower) is a widely distributed plant that grows in moist places as high as the subalpine zone.  It is foundin all of our northern states, in the Rocky Mountain states, throughout Canada, and Eurasia. It With its single (uniflora), five petaled, nodding white flower and rosette of basal leaves it is easy to identify. It is the only species in its genus. The name Moneses was derived from two Greek words, monos and hesis, meaning “single delight.”

Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora L. The Indian pipe (left)  occurs in Idaho, although it less common than the pinesap shown on the right. The two plants shown on this page are both saprophytes that thrive on forest litter. Plants in this genus lack chlorophyll and their root systems are always associated with minute fungi. The generic name Monotropa was derived from the Greek words, mono for “one” and tropos for “direction,” referring to other plants in genus Monotropa that bear their flowers on one side of the stem.

Pinesap, Monotropa hypopithys L. (left). The pinesap is also found in most of the United States and in Eurasia. It is easily distinguished from the Indian pipe by its yellow color, turning brown as it matures. Several small flowers are clustered at the top of the stem, compared to the Indian pipe’s single flower. The species name hypopithys was also derived from two Greek words, hypo for “under” and pithys for “pine,” alluding to the pine forests in which the plants are usually found. Identification is usually not be a problem, although this plant and species of Corallorhiza in the orchid family are rather similar in appearance;d both are saprophytes that grow on shaded leaf-litter.

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