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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

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Common Name
Whorled Loosestrife (Whorled Yellow Loosestrife)

 

Scientific Name
Lysimachia quadrifolia L.

 

Plant Family
Myrsine (Myrsinaceae)

Garden Location
Upland

 

Prime Season
Early to Late Summer Flowering

 

 

Whorled Loosestrife grows upwards of 2 to 3 feet high, the stem rarely branched, and with fine hair.

The leaves, without teeth (entire) are in a whorl of 4 or 5, hence the common name. Leaves are sessile or on a very short stalk. Tips are pointed, bases are wedge shaped or rounded, the underside has more hair than the upper side and the upper side has a series of fine pits. Leaf margins have hair.

The inflorescence is a whorl of stalked flowers rising singly from the leaf axils along the stem.

The flowers are solitary on long stalks arising from the leaf axils; they are five-part with a yellow corolla that is either spotted or with darker streaks. The petal edges are pointed to slightly rounded and are also streaked. There are five stamens which are united at the base by a fleshy band that is attached to the petals, thus giving them the appearance of an upright tube. The calyx is very short with five green lanceolate sepals streaked with black or maroon resin canals and covered with fine hair.

Seed: Fertile flowers produce a smooth seed capsule almost as long as the sepals. Dispersion is by simply dropping to the ground.

 

Habitat: The plant grows in large numbers in the Upland Garden, particularly on Aspen Alley. It grows from a slender rhizome and can spread vegetatively that way. It is adapted to dry to mesic sunny areas in clearings, fields, meadows and is also found in the understory of the forest.

Names: Whorled Loosestrife was formerly slotted into the Primrose family (Primulaceae), but the change to Myrsine is explained at the page bottom. The genus name, Lysimachia, is from the Greek for either king Lysimachus or from lysis meaning "a release from" and mache is for "strife". The legend is that Lysimachus, king of Sicily, was walking through a field. A bull chased him. He grabbed a loosestrife plant, waved it in front of the bull and it calmed the bull. In general then, both the common and the generic name refers to a supposed power to sooth animals or "loose" them of their "strife". See below for more. The species name quadrifolia means 4-leaved. See notes below as to the uniqueness of the Garden Population. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.

Comparisons: A close relative that grows in the woodland is Fringed Loosestrife, Lysimachia ciliata L., where the leaves are not in a whorl and the flower corolla is sightly different. The Prairie Loosestrife, L. quadriflora, has the flowers in a whorl and the leaves are very narrow and linear.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Whorled Loosestrife Whorled Loosestrife Whorled Loosestrife Closeup

Above: The long-stalked flowers have a yellow corolla that is either spotted or with darker streaks. The petal edges are pointed to slightly rounded and are also streaked. The five stamens are united at the base by a fleshy band that is attached to the petals.

Below: 1st photo - The narrow, linear sepals are streaked with maroon resin channels. Leaves: Both surfaces of the leaves have fine hair, more so on the underside ribs and on the leaf edges. The upper side (2nd photo) has fine pits, which show up better when viewed from the underside (3rd photo photo).

sepals upper side of leaf Underside of leaf

Below: The leaf and flower whorl typical of the plant. Note the hairy stem.

Whorled Loosestrife Whorled Loosestrife plant
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Notes:

Notes: Whorled Loosestrife is not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler introduced it to the Garden area on April 26, 1913 with plants sourced from Kelsey's Nursery in North Carolina. She then noted planting 2 plants she got from the golf links of Glenwood Park. Martha Crone did not list it on her 1951 census but it was listed again in 1986 and has been in the Garden since then. It is considered native to Minnesota but in opposition to Eloise Butler's notes, it has been found in Minnesota only in Pine County. Did she mis-identify it? It was located there in 1980 and since then about 13 additional sites have been found, all in Pine County and most are in St. Croix State Park, somewhat protected. The last specimen collected for the University Herbarium was in the year 2000. The plant is listed on the State's "Special Concern" plant list. Per the DNR "A species is considered a species of special concern if, although the species is not endangered or threatened, it is extremely uncommon in Minnesota, or has unique or highly specific habitat requirements and deserves careful monitoring of its status." Thus, the population in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden is very special. It is much more prevalent in Wisconsin. Minnesota is at the extreme western edge of the plants range. It is found eastward from here to the coast, both in the U.S. and in Canada.

Family Change: This is one of 8 species of Lysimachia found in Minnesota, listed currently by DNR. Seven are native, one is introduced. Several others have been reported but with little data. Based on recent scientific work, some of the leading references have moved most Lysimachia species into another plant family - Myrsinaceae, following the lead of Flora of North America, on the basis of resin canals among other considerations. The U of M Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Minnesota (Ref. #28c) follows this classification.

Lore: As explained above, the common perception that a loosestrife plant has soothing powers over animals led people to tie a branch to the yolk of oxen, making them easier to handle. The plant is known to repel gnats and other irritating insects which maybe explains why the animals were easier to handle. Pliny the elder wrote that the odor of loosestrife would keep snakes away.

References and site links

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.

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