Study in Jeffersonia Diphylla (Twinleaf)

Jeffersonia diphylla is “a somewhat uncommon spring woodland wildflower that is native from New York to Wisconsin south to Alabama and Virginia. It is usually found in limestone soils in rich damp woods. It is a clump-forming plant that typically grows to 8” tall when in flower in early spring, but continues to grow thereafter eventually reaching 18” tall by the time its fruit ripens. … Each flower has eight petals. Flowers are somewhat reminiscent of bloodroot, but the plants are unrelated.” (Missouri Botanical Garden) The species name diphylla is given because each leaf is divided into two leaflets.

“JEDI” (its amusing USDA symbol) is one of only two twinleaf species in the world; the other is J. dubia, native to Japan, whose flowers are a light blue-purple and whose twin-leaflets are not quite as separate as those of J. diphylla. While J. diphylla‘s flowers bloom for only a few days each spring, making it a true Spring ephemeral, J. dubia‘s bloom for a few weeks.

The Jeffersonia genus name was given by botanist John Bartram to honor avid horticulturist and third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson, and apparently bloom time for both species is supposed to occur around Jefferson’s 13 April birthday, but here in NH it’s a month later.

Enchanted Gardens, a landscape design firm in the greater Boston area, offers more information on, and photos of, both species.  Margaret Roach writes about J. diphylla at her A Way To Garden website as well.

I bought one plant at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (Boothbay, Maine) plant sale in June 2017. It bloomed last year about a week earlier than this (10 May) but I somehow missed photographing it; I’m all over it this year, before weather and  time shatter the flowers.

Here’s a bud from 15 May:


And flowers opened yesterday, 16 May:


Today, after light overnight rain, they are closed again, adorned with water droplets:


This one is still protected by its purplish sheath: twinleafJeffersoniadiphyllawhitebudpurplesheath17May2019

The twin-leaf looks like robust butterfly wings, with an elegant burgundy edging of the finely textured leaf:


The plant as a whole is somewhat insignificant though each element is graceful and sophisticated:


The Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA, under the auspices of the Native Plant Trust, sells these gems, so looks like a trip there is overdue.


“The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods —
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.” — from Spring Pools, Robert Frost

One comment

  1. I seriously would not have guessed that twin-leafs were so rare. It was something we did not study in school. I remember trifoliate or trifoliately compound leaves, but not paired leaflets. This is probably why.

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