Canada Mayflower

Maianthemum canadense

Family Ruscaceae related to False Solomon’s Seal M. racemosum

Cany May Drawing
Alternate leaves pull the stem into a zigzag pattern.

This became one of my favorite spring plants once I started looking closer. Because I knew its name and saw it everywhere, I had stopped “seeing it.” But after learning about plant parts, I noticed the elegant pistil, shaped like a beautiful white jade vase (below). The female organ of a flower, protecting seeds, is usually surrounded by other parts and hard to find. Discovering it made me want to make the effort to notice the pistil of every flowering plant. I’m trying my best.

Habitat: They can cover a dry upland New England forest floor with few shrubs and dappled sunlight peeking through the canopy of tall tree leaves (below left) 5-15-18. The leaves of this low herbaceous (non-woody) plant are some of the first I find in spring coming up tightly coiled before they spread out to receive more sunlight.

Name: ‘Mai’ is from Latin for May and ‘anthemum’ from Greek for flower. Canadense means it is more of a Northern flower. It used to be in the Liliaceae family but is now in the Ruscaceae family. Although not all sources agree on this family name, it is still a monocot.

Roots/leaves:  They can reproduce vegetatively with rhizomes (underground stems) anchored by fibrous roots. It has typical monocot leaves with parallel veins and smooth edges (entire). They are ovate (kind of oval), widest near the bottom, and cordate (the base has heart-shaped lobes). They can be sessile (no leaf stalk) or have a short petiole (stalk).

Can May habit
A single leaf won’t produce a flower. A plant that has enough energy to reproduce sexually by creating flowers needs to have 2 or more leaves. 5-16-18


Inflorescence: this terminal cluster of flowers that has one stalk (peduncle) and each individual flower (floret) has a stalk with its own name (pedicel). Called a raceme because the stalked florets start opening at the bottom. They are not branched but do appear in pairs, a new detail I noticed this time around.

Sepals and Petals: Sepals usually protect an immature flower and petals might attract a pollinator. Together they are called the perianth. When the round bud of a Canada Mayflower opens, 2 sepals and 2 petals look similar so they use the term tepals. These bend down (reflex) and expose the stamens and pistil, the inner reproductive parts of a flower. That’s why the pistil is so easy to see.

Stamens and Pistils

  • Stamens are the male reproductive parts. Each stamen has a thin filament (stalk) topped by the introrse anthers that have already released their pollen. This means the opening in each anther faces the center of the flower. Say introrse 3 times fast. There are only 4 stamens which is unusual for monocots that ususally have 3merous parts (or parts divisible by 3).
  • Pistil: the female reproductive part usualy has 3 components to find: ovary, style and stigma. The swollen ovary holds the seeds. This style is the divided neck that lifts the 2-lobed stigma high enough to receive pollen from another similar flower (also unusual for a monocot.

Fruit (berry) A berry is a fleshy fruit produced from one ovary. It does not open (dehisce) to release its seeds and does not have a stony seed which is another fleshy fruit called a drupe. It is usually dispersed by animals eating the fleshy part and eliminating the seeds with a bit of fertilizer.

Left below: the ovary is ripening on top of the stamens and fading tepals. Right above: the fruit later has changed color and the other flower parts have dropped off because the stamens have released their pollen and the tepals have done their job to protect the new growth and attract a pollinator. Right below: the leaf changes color in fall.

Flower Formula: a fast way for me to remember all four whorls of a flower from the outside to the center: sepals, petals, stamens and pistils. I can quickly include symmetry, fusion, ovary position and fruit. Usually formulas are done for plant families, but are so variable and, for me, not much use. Canada Mayflower is perfect for a floral formula:

*, 2+2, 4, 2: berry

A short way to say:

* Symmetry of this flower is regular, actinomorphic, or radially symmetrical which all mean the same thing: like a wheel that can be centrally divided in any direction. X is used for irregular flowers.
2+2 Usually sepals and petals are different but, in this case, they look alike (tepals). No fusion. If some parts are fused, I can circle those parts.
4 4 stamens that are not fused.
2 this pistil is above the other plant parts (note underline), Hypogenous or superior are other terms for this. The ovary has 2 chambers (locules).
berry Type of fruit: fleshy with 2 seeds.

Members of the Ruscaceae Family are monocots and usually have parts that are divisible by 3, while Canada Mayflower has parts divisible by 2. I always like a nonconformist.

2 thoughts on “Canada Mayflower”

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