Friday, June 7, 2024

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica)


Like an elfin garden, a colony of Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) springs from well-drained soils of an upland forest in Mohican State Forest in Ashland County, Ohio. Shauna and I did a bit of hiking here this morning and were pleased to stumble across this magical little wildflower.

A trio of flowering spikes erupt from their leafy bases. Shinleaf can be surprisingly easy to miss, given its gloomily lit haunts. Also, it blooms well after the crush of spring wildflowers, when everyone is in the woods ogling showy bluebells, trout lilies, wood poppies, etc. Furthermore, from my experience, this Lilliputian member of the heath family (formerly and sometimes still the Pyrolaceae family) is normally rather scarce, with widely scattered and small colonies.

An isolated plant showcases the graceful form of Pyrola elliptica. The specific epithet elliptica stems from the slightly elongated shape of the basal leaves. I love the genus name Pyrola, which rolls pleasingly off the tongue. It references the genus Pyrus, the pear trees, due to a supposed resemblance of the foliage.
The little candelabras of waxy white flowers are quite elegant. The other three species of Pyrola found in Ohio have similar inflorescences replete with waxy flowers, but only one other, the Round-leaved Wintergreen (P. rotundifolia) can be locally common, although it is largely confined to the eastern half of the state.

The other two, One-sided Wintergreen (Pyrola [Orthilia] secunda) and Green-flowered Shinleaf (P. chlorantha) are now considered extirpated, as it's been over two decades since anyone has found them. The former occurred in only seven counties in the extreme northeastern corner of the state, and the latter was only found once, in Lucas County. Their disappearance correlates with a seeming northward retreat of northern flora at their southern limits. Rediscover either of those, and you'll become famous in Ohio botanical circles.

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