Coptis trifolia (L.) Salisb.
Coptis groenlandica (Oeder) Fernald
Coptis trifolia (L.) Salisb. ssp. groenlandica (Oeder) Hultén
Coptis trifolia (L.) Salisb. var. groenlandica (Oeder) Fassett
Goldthread, threeleaf goldthread, canker-root, tisavoyanne
Threeleaf goldthread is native to eastern Eurasia, Greenland, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Canada, and the United States. It prefers cool, moist habitats in pine and spruce forests.
Plants: These plants hug the forest floor, at 3-6" (7.6-15 cm) in height. The roots of these plants are long and golden yellow, hence the “goldthread” part of the name.
Leaves: Each plant is comprised of a single glossy evergreen leaf, though it is so deeply lobed that it looks like three distinct leaves, hence the “threeleaf” part of the name. The three leaves together form a rough rounded triangle. Leaf tips are scalloped. The leaf emerges on a very short stem.
Flowers: Each plant produces a single, rather beautiful flower atop a long, thin stem. It is ¼-½" (8.3-12 mm) in diameter. The things that look like five to seven white petals are actually sepals. Inside the sepals, not looking the least bit like petals, are 4 to 7 tiny yellow petals, shaped like diminutive spoons, with a drop of nectar in each spoon. There are many white-tipped threadlike stamens. Flowers appear in May, and are easy to miss, since they don’t persist for very long.
Fruits: A small array of 4-7 pods, each ¼" (8.5 mm) long, reminiscent of a candelabra.
Medical: Indigenous peoples and colonists chewed the bitter yellow roots of these plants to relieve canker sores, hence the common name canker-root. The Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines lists treatment of digestive disorders among its unproven uses.
Coptis trifolia at Minnesota Wildflowers
Coptis trifolia on www.wildadirondacks.org
Coptis trifolia on Wikipedia
Coptis trifolia on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database
Coptis trifolia on www.henriettes-herb.com
Coptis trifolia on Ontario Wildflowers
Coptis trifolia description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.