Circaea alpina (Alpine Enchanter's Nightshade)
|Also known as:||Small Enchanter's Nightshade, Dwarf Enchanter's Nightshade|
|Family:||Onagraceae (Evening Primrose)|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade; moist; rich woods, mossy bogs|
|Bloom season:||June - August|
|Plant height:||3 to 12 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Cluster of stalked flowers (raceme) at the top of the stem, elongating to about 4 inches in fruit, sometimes with 1 to a few lateral racemes from the base of the cluster. Open flowers are all grouped at the tip of the cluster with developing fruit below. Flowers are about 1/8 inch across, with 2 white petals notched to about half the length of the petal, a pair of long white stamens projecting from the center, 2 sepals bent back away from the flower with the hairy ovary below them. Flower and cluster stalks are smooth or variously hairy with at least some hairs glandular.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are thin, opposite with each pair at right angles to the pair below, ½ to 3 inches long and 1/3 to 2¼ inches wide, hairless, generally egg to heart-shaped with a pointed tip, and coarsely toothed around the edges. The top-most pair of leaves is smallest and short stalked to nearly stalkless, those below have narrowly winged stalks up to 1½ inches long. Stems below the flower clusters are hairless.
Alpine Enchanter's Nightshade is a delicate little plant typically found in rich, cool, moist woods and swampy places, often growing on mossy rocks and logs. A personal observation: while not documented in any reference that I could find, all plants that I have come across (and other images, as well) have exactly 4 pairs of leaves with the second pair from the base the largest, and the pair at the top quite small. This may be due to the particular degree of maturity, but it is a curious thing nonetheless. Related species Common Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) is a much larger plant with open flowers spread out along the raceme rather than clustered at the top, leaves up to 5 inches long, and common in more degraded woodlands. C. alpina is rarely taller than about 10 inches in late season maturity while its larger cousin is rarely less than a foot tall. There are several subspecies worldwide and 2 recognized in North America, with subsp. pacifica found in the western third of North America, and subsp. alpina a circumboreal subspecies found in Minnesota, the northern half of the US and throughout Canada.
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Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Savanna Portage State Park, Aitkin County, and Falls Creek SNA, Washington County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?