Lanceleaf Figwort is an erect native perennial growing to 6 feet high on a smooth unbranched stem whose sides are flat and slightly grooved.
The leaves are opposite, stalked, somewhat triangular to lance-shaped, with pointed tips, abrupt bases that are never heart-shaped, double-toothed margins, smooth surfaces and a winged stalk that is less than 1/3 the length of the leaf blade which averages about 3 inches long, with lower leaf blades longer and upper blades shorter.
The inflorescence is a tall open panicle with 6 to 8 inch long side clusters rising from the upper stem nodes. Side clusters are regularly branched. These branches have glandular hairs.
Individual flowers are 5-parted, somewhat urn or tubular shaped with a corolla that varies from green to yellowish to reddish brown, about 5/8 inch long, opening at the top into a narrow mouth, with two veined lobes above that are flat and projecting forward and three shorter lobes below - two laterals projecting forward and a central lower lobe turned under and reflexed backward. The calyx is very small, cleft into 5 unequal lobes. There are 4 stamens and a sterile stamen (a staminode) with a blunt yellow-green head that is visible within the mouth of the flower tucked up against the upper lip. The 4 regular stamens in the lower section of the mouth have yellow-green filaments, widest near the anthers, which are yellow, and closely surround the ovary. The stamens are erect when ripening (as shown below) and then droop downward.
Seed: A fertile flower produces a 1/4 inch long dull brown ovoid, - pear shaped - 2-celled capsule containing many small seeds that are black, of irregular shape and pitted. There are faint nerve lines on the outer surface of the capsule. The capsule splits into 2 halves to release seeds which are extremely light, averaging 185,000 per ounce. Seeds are spread by wind shaking the stem. Seeds are estimated to need 60 days of cold stratification to break dormancy and need light to germinate. They therefore must be surface sown, just as if they fell from the plant.
Habitat: Lanceleaf Figwort is found in meadows, fields, wood edges and prairies. It grows in wet-mesic to dry conditions and partial sun to shade is best for the plant although some of the specimens shown here were growing in full sun but in dense vegetation to shade the base of the plant. It has a rhizomatous root system.
Names: The genus, Scrophularia, is a throwback to the old Doctrine of Signatures wherein if a plant was seen to have a resemblance to a human condition or to human anatomy (in this case, a tumor or glandular swelling), the plant was thought to be associated with treatment of ailments of those conditions and body parts. The genus was named by an Italian physician in 1474, after a condition found in human lymph nodes called scrophula, which condition resembles the knobs on the rhizomes of certain Figworts. The word for the disease is derived from the Latin scrofule. The species, lanceolata, is more straight-forward, meaning 'lance-shaped' like these leaves. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Pursh’ is for Frederick Traugott Pursh (1774-1820) German-American botanist who wrote A Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America, and was the botanist who catalogued and described the plants brought back by the exploring expedition of Lewis and Clark. Pursh first collected this plant in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s.
Comparisons: Only one other Figwort grows in our area that is similar; that is the Eastern or Maryland Figwort, S. marilandica, but it is much less common and flowers later. That plant has an irregularly branched flower panicle, leaf stalks that are more than 1/3 to the length of the blade, the leaf base is frequently heart-shaped and the sterile stamen is purple.
Above: 1st photo - The inflorescence is an open panicle with a series of branched clusters. 2nd photo - The five lobes of the corolla are visible and inside, tucked up against the upper lips is the sterile yellow-green stamen with a blunt tip. The other 4 stamens are in the lower part of the throat with yellow anthers. 3rd photo - The stem is unbranched below the inflorescence and grooved.
Below: The plant is quite tall with widely spaced opposite leaves. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: 1st photo - Note the turned under lower central lobe of the corolla and the two forward projecting upper petals. 2nd photo - The calyx is short with 5 pointed unequal teeth.
Below: Leaves have a double sawtooth margin and a winged stalk that is less than 1/3 the length of the leaf blade. Bases are truncate, not heart-shaped. The underside (2nd photo) is pale in color and prominently shows the veins.
Below: The pear-shaped capsule splits in two to release small black irregular shaped seeds.
Below: The inflorescence.
Notes: Lanceleaf Figwort is indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler noted its presence on May 31, 1907, using the older synonym Scrophularia leporella which was applied at that time to an older common name, Early Figwort. In North America the plant is found in all of the U.S, except AZ and the southern states from Texas eastward to South Carolina. In Canada it is found in the lower Provinces except Manitoba. Within Minnesota it is found throughout the state with the exceptions being some counties in the far northern tier and the NW section of the state. As described above, this is one of two native Figworts in the state.
Medicinal uses: Millspaugh (Ref. #27) reports that a poultice of the plant would sooth inflamed tumors and that a tonic could be made for treating glandular disorders. The entire fresh plant just before flowering would be chopped and pulped and then with alcohol, a tincture was made that had a beautiful crimson color but a rank odor and taste. The principal chemical extracted from the plant was called Scrophularin, but the plant was never listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"