Buckbean is a native perennial herbaceous plant growing in wet areas from a rhizomatous root system.
Leaves are composed of three unstalked leaflets rising on stems directly from the rootstock; leaflets up to 3 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide. Leaflets are palmately veined, oblong to obovate (widest above the middle), rapidly tapering to an obtuse tip and forming a long taper to the narrow base. The upper surface is smooth, the underside is paler in color and has some fine hair on the midvein; margins are entire. Leaf stalks have sheaths at the base.
The inflorescence is a terminal raceme, up to 6 inches long with 10 to 20 flowers, rising from the root stock, on a stout leafless smooth stem of up to 12 inches in height.
Flowers: Flowers are star like with a white corolla of 5 spreading spatula shaped petals (sometimes 6), opening up to 3/4 inch across, that are bearded on the inside with many white hairs. The corolla can also be purplish. The buds are pinkish before they open to the brilliant white. The calyx is much shorter than the petals with 5 pointed sepals. Each flower is on a thick stalk with a single small bract at the base. The 5 stamens are shorter than the corolla with white filaments and dark red anthers. Anthers at time of pollen maturity have an upside down wishbone shape. The single style, with a blunt tip is longer and exserted. Flowers open at the base of the raceme first.
Seed: Fertilized flowers produce an ovoid capsule containing many small smooth shiny bean-shaped seeds. When the capsule is dry it slits and seeds shake out by wind action or other disturbances.
Habitat: Buckbean is a plant preferring the acidic soils of bogs, boggy swamps and wetlands of northern climate zones. It grows from a thick rhizome that lies just below the surface. It will also grow in shallow water. These elongate and new shoots can root at the nodes forming colonies. Root division is the best way to obtain new plants by dividing rooted clumps.
Names: Stern (Ref.#37a) states that the genus Menyanthes is from the Greek menyanthos a water plant mentioned by the Greek Theophrastus, the seccessor to Aristotle, and who is considered the father of botany. Mrs. Grieve (Ref.#7) however, says it is from two Greek words meaning 'month' and 'flower' and Linnaeus used the name because the plant remains in flower for a month. The species name, trifoliata, means with 3-part leaves.
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.
Above: The Buckbean inflorescence. 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 - The star shaped flower has bearded petals on the inside and dark red anthers. 2nd photo - the calyx is small with 5 narrowly triangular teeth.
Below:- 1st photo - The leaf is of 3 leaflets, not stalked, on a long stem from the root. 2nd photo - the underside is a paler color with a few fine hairs on the midrid.
Below:- 1st photo - the leaf stalks end with a sheath at ground level. 2nd photo - new seed pods forming.
Below: A colony of Buckbean in Sphagum Moss.
Notes: Buckbean is considered indigenous to the Wildflower Garden. Eloise Butler noted its presence on June 6, 1909 “in the east meadow”. She wrote of its presence in the wetland in published articles in 1911 and 1915. She also planted it in 1924, '28, and '30. Martha Crone planted it in 1933, '46, '47, '50, and '52. It is no longer extant, but is found nearby in the Quaking Bog.
Buckbean in North America is found throughout Canada and throughout the United States except for 11 states in the SE section. It is widespread in Minnesota except for the drier SW quadrant and the southern tier of counties. It is the only species currently assigned to the Menyanthes genus in North America.
Lore and uses: Buckbean grows in a large area of the Northern Hemisphere. The plant contains the glucoside 'Menyanthin' which is a bitter principle. An infusion of dried leaves was used to treat rheumatism, scurvy and skin diseases. Fernald (Ref.#6) relates that the ground root was used in parts of upper Scandanavia for making what was called 'missen-bread' (bread made during a famine) and that Linnaeus gave an account of how to make the flour and extract some of the bitter principle and Fernald concludes "after which a thoroughly unpalatable but nutritious bread may be made from the flour."
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.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"