Sassafras albidum

Lauraceae Laurel Family including Spicebush, Cinnamon, Camphor

Different leaf forms on the same tree and a spicy-fruity taste are characteristic of a Sassafras tree. One of its former specific epithets (second part of a Latin name) was variiafollium, a great descriptive word. I don’t know what albidum (white) has to do with anything.

Chewed fall leaf with 3 main veins and 3 lobes.

Shoots (twigs, buds, leaves). Two more distinctive characteristics make Sassafras easy to identify in the winter. The twigs are green and the lateral shoots extend out beyond the terminal shoot.

Lateral shoots are longer than the center shoot.

Below left: the winter terminal bud sometimes has silky hairs. Middle: bud scales on the terminal bud starting to open in spring with smaller lateral buds over a raised leaf scar. Right: Bud scales open further and show some bracts that will be below the flower cluster (inflorescence). The bud scales will fall and leave scars showing one year’s growth. Sometimes I snip a twig and watch it grow.

Below left: A leaf scar has confluent vascular bundles (xylem: water pipes and phloem: sugar pipes) so close together they look like a line. Bud scales dropped off and left behind bud scale scars. Young bark eventually cracks with rust colored fissures (right).

Flowers: The dioecious flowers bloom before the leaves mature. Its fun to see which trees are male and which are female because they are on different plants. Below left: Bud scales open to reveal some accrescent involucre bracts (a whorl of bracts that continue to grow larger) and a cluster of young flowers 4-15-19. Below right they continue to grow and new leaves start.

Male flowers (below) are clustered in a loose raceme (the lower flowers open first). Six tepals (sepals and petals look the same) are below the 9 stamens in two whorls. Three inner stamens have nectiferous glands (bumps with nectar inside). The leaves are just starting to open.  4-30-12

Female flowers on a different tree (below). I did find these female flowers but forgot to go back and look for the fruit. I enlarged a single flower on the right. Six tepals (it looks like 7 because one is the stalk and one is really long) are beneath the superior ovary of the pistil that hasn’t started to grow into a fruit. It is surrounded by six yellow stamenodes (sterile stamens). The style (wavy neck) and stigma (tip that will receive the pollen) are easy to see.

Leaves finally open. The bracts and bud scales are still there.

Below right: leaves form a mosaic, spread out so each individual leaf receives the maximum amount of sun. There are 3 different forms: one lobed, two lobed (mitten) and three lobed. Even the tiny mitten shape (lower right) has 3 main veins.

Fall leaves turn a shade of salmon that appeared on some of the younger leaves (left above). I wonder what likes to chew on them. It is a distinctive chew that eats the softer parts between the veins.

Fruit: The ovary becomes a single fleshy green fruit, a drupe with one seed, that will turn blue when ripe on top of a bright red stalked cup.

Star Flower

Lysimachia borealis formerly Trientalis borealis Myrsinaceae or Marlberry Family. Formerly in the Primrose Family

When spring comes, I search for this graceful plant on the forest floor. The earlier name (Trientalis) “triens” means 1/3 of a foot in Latin and describes its low herbaceous (non-woody) habit. Borealis indicates a Northern plant. It’s new genus name, Lysimachia, just refers to its relatives. If I were to name this plant, I would use elegant as the species descriptor. Maybe Trientalis elegans.

Roots, rhizomes. I often find colonies, so I assume most plants start from rhizomes or underground stems held in place by their roots that absorb water and nutrients.

Leaves: this plant is unusual for me because the leaves radiate out but each single leaf is not the same length. In the fall the leaves are still different lengths. I thought they might have started at different times and would end up the same length. I love that they don’t. There is even a tiny one that curls under the flower at an odd angle (left).

The leaves have pinnate veins arranged like a feather with secondary veins coming out of the midvein. Another detail I noticed when I drew it: the side veins arch over to the next vein along the margin: anamatosis.

Sepals and Petals. Each individual flower usually has 7 sepals, 7 petals. The sepals are placed in between the petals instead of behind a petal.

Starflower and bud

In the photo below (left) there are only 6 petals. Note the word “usually” above. I relish the variable number of petals, refusing to fit into our human definitions. It must be so hard to draw or photograph one perfect picture and write one definitive description for the id books. And plants evolve and change. Hard for the taxonomists but interesting for us observers.

Six petals

Stamens and Pistil. Below: Stamens with filaments and yellow anthers surround a round green ovary with a long style with a tiny stigma on top. Seven stamens arranged with each stamen in the center of a petal. Of course, there is a term for this: antepetalous. They could be in front of the sepals: antesepalous. After the anthers ripen and release pollen they curl down (right).

Fruit. A capsule splits along seams to disperse seeds and looks like a squished volleyball.

Two more shots of this radiating pattern as it decomposes and get eaten.


Arisaema triphyllum Araceae/Arum/Aroid Family including Skunk Cabbage (see species post), Wild Calla, Golden Club, and tropical arums (see Araceae post).

A friend gave me one of these plants (from many) growing in the damp areas of her yard. The illustrations are from my sketchbooks.

Anastomosing veins along the leaflet borders (see below)

Underground: I don’t often see the underground parts of plants I choose to draw because I don’t want to pick them. I was delighted when my friend helped me dig up my gift and let me see what was happening beneath the ground. Below left: The corm at the top of her trowel was surrounded by deciduous contractile roots. A corm is an underground storage organ at the base of the stem which is why a clone of this perennial will bloom next year. A new corm is formed on top of the old corm and the roots will contract to pull the plant back down into the soil.

Shoots (Stems and Leaves): The leaves emerge from protective sheaths that look like snake skins. Their shapes are from another world.

First the leaves and then the spathes.

Leaves: each trifoliate leaf is a compound leaf with 3 leaflets arranged so that two of the leaflets form a straight line and the third is perpendicular to that line. Note the poison ivy leaf (below right), I photographed on the same day, has the same arrangement. There is one large tooth on the margins of the lower leaves to distinguish it (among other things) but still something to notice. Pinnate veins that extend out from a mid vein loop around forming a border along the margins or edges. This is called anastomosing, seen better in my first picture, and helps identify this leaf.

Flower. This unusual flower is an inflorescence or a cluster of separate, stalkless florets attached to the lower part of a rounded fleshy axis (spadix). That’s Jack. The florets are protected by a spathe (the Pulpit) that wraps around and overhangs Jack.

A female Jack with no space at the bottom of the spathe. (See below)

The spathe (above) has various colors and patterns that some use to describe a few sub-species. A. triphyllum ssp.triphyllum is the one most common; A. triphyllum ssp.pusillum has a solid colored spathe (maybe the middle image?); and A. triphyllum ssp.stewardsonii has a ridged or fluted spathe that I haven’t seen. These will be fun to (try and) find next year and make me look closer.

The flowers are dioecious. The male and female clusters are on different plants. But… an individual plant can change sex in the next season depending on the amount of carbohydrates manufactured and stored in its corm. Females take more energy to reproduce, are larger, and have two leaves. The males are much smaller and have only one leaf. If a female plant had a tough year and couldn’t create enough stored resources for next year, she might revert to a he.

Below: onepetiole (leaf stalk) and peduncle (flower stalk) of a male plant.

Jack leaves1
A male Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Below: one of my favorite photos I found after learning about male and female Jacks. The larger female (left) has two leaves and a much smaller male (right) has only one leaf.

Large female Jack (left) with two compound leaves beside the smaller male (right) with one leaf.

Below: The male flower has a tiny opening at the bottom of the spathe, blocked in a female flower, so it will trap the pollen. When I enlarged my photo, I saw a little space (red arrow) at the bottom of the male flower. Fungus gnats, attracted by a fungal smell, lay their eggs in these plants thinking the larvae will have something to eat. When they find they have made a mistake, they are trapped in the female plant so they can spread pollen on the stigmas. But they can escape through the tiny hole in the male plant and maybe carry pollen to another female Jack. From: Wild Flowers of the NE, by Carol Gracie.

Right: The male flowers only have stamens and don’t need sepals and petals. I didn’t see a female flower. By the time I knew to look it had already formed fruit.

Fruit: The spathe and leaves wither as the fleshy berries develop, turn green and finally red when ripe.