Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Eaten by woodland elves..."

Yesterday's post, showing a couple of photos of fringe cup flowers, got two comments; each sent me off to look up more information. I discovered some interesting facts, worth passing on.

Sarah wrote, "Wow, those look a lot like miterwort (mitella diphylla)
http://tinyurl.com/cfecjug  http://tinyurl.com/cp5thyt
Same thing, do you think?"

They did look similar. Sarah's plant has the same 5 fringed petals, the same green cups, a similar hairy stem. But hers is a Mitella; mine's Tellima grandiflora. Why the different names for almost identical plants?

They are both in the Saxifrage family, like the London Pride; plants with basal leaves, and long, hairy flower stems. The Mitella genus is named after bishop's hats; "little mitre", from the Latin mitra with the diminutive suffix -ella.

Presumably the seed capsule was thought to resemble a bishop's mitre, though one reference suggests that it looks more like "a tattered French-Canadian toque." (From Plants of Coastal British Columbia)

Mitella diphylla, Sarah's flower, is an Eastern North American species. Tellima grandiflora is a West coast plant. And it once was classed with the Mitellas.

Native from Alaska to California, Tellima grandiflora is the only member of its genus Tellima --an anagram of Mitella. ... The species was first described as Mitella grandiflora in 1814. ... compared to other species of Mitella the flowers are large. (From Arthur Lee Jacobson)

Tellima grandiflora flowers turn pink as they age.

We have several native mitreworts on the BC coast; M. pentandra, M. nuda, M. breweri, etc. These look like fringecups, but most have greenish flowers; I had some like this in my yard when I lived in the Mission area.

And fringecup is edible! I didn't know this.

The Skagit pounded fringecup, boiled it and drank the tea for any kind of sickness, especially lack of appetite. ... Fringecup was said to be eaten by woodland elves to improve night vision. (Plants of Coastal BC)

(I sort of doubt that bit about woodland elves.)

The leaves taste boringly bland and are not poisonous, but herbivores may be discouraged from grazing by the copious hairs. ... The sweet-tasting blossoms are a pleasant trailside nibble. (ALJ)

Second comment; Margy says she has never seen these. I think she probably has, without knowing it; they're extremely common in damp sites all up and down our coast, possibly even on the shore of her home on the lake. But they are also completely inconspicuous, even in full bloom; just more greenery at ground level, with tiny, lighter specks above them in season. Only from close up would you notice them.

Fringecup, flowering, mixed with other greens and dead ferns on a cliff face.

If it ever stops raining*, I'll try nibbling some fringecup blossoms.

*It will. Sooner or later. I'm just fretting because our long weekend was spent inside, looking out at the rain.


  1. Wow! Thanks! I have no doubt that woodland elves consume these to improve their nightvision, as that is exactly the sort of thing they do around here. Nibble on things.

  2. Fascinating. Thanks for delving into this.


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