Clintonia is Latin in honor of a former governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), a noted naturalist; borealis is Greek, originally from boreas, meaning wind, but botanically speaking it alludes to the northern hemisphere.
Forms colonies in cool, moist, acidic northern forests. Beautiful and often found with plants like red trillium, hobblebush, and striped maple.
An attractive shade groundcover or border plant, best mulched for winter protection with pine and deciduous leaves. Flowers are lovely but small, while true-blue berries may be the most striking element, presenting in late summer.
This perennial forms colonies in cool, moist, acidic northern forests, but is found as far south as North Carolina. A cursory look at its leaf pattern allows it to be easily confused with plants with similar appearance, such as Allium trioccum (wild leeks) or orchid species such as Crypripedium acaule (pink lady’s slipper).
Leaves and Stems
Medium green, glossy, oblong basal leaves, each from 4 to 12 inches long, usually growing in a clump of 2 to 5. Each leaf has long parallel veins typical of its plant group, monocots. Each basal clump surrounds a single stalk that is slim, green, and gracefully erect, standing from 4 to 16 inches in height.
Yellow to greenish-yellow, bell-shaped flowers hanging in clusters of 3 to 8 atop the flower stalk. Each flower is approximately 1 inch long, with 6 flaring petals; 6 longer, curved, bright yellow-tipped stamens; and one even longer straight style.
A striking, porcelain-appearing, 1/4 inch diameter, spherical berry, which changes in color from green, to white, to true-blue through mid to late summer.
Leaves may be marred by slugs or snails. Berries are eaten by chipmunks and birds.
Underground runners; divisions can be taken in spring or autumn, but care should be used as rhizomes and roots are brittle. Can be seed propagated immediately post ripening.
The enticing true-blue berries, while not identified as poisonous, are foul-tasting, and best for viewing. Native Americans made some use of the leaves, mainly for skin problems.
Some references show Clintonia reassigned to the Colchicaceae, or autumn-crocus family.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
US Forest Service Plant of the Week
Plant Profile by Kate O’Dell