Coptis trifolia (Three-leaf Goldthread)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist mossy woods, conifer swamps, bogs
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:3 to 6 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: 6-petals

[photo of flowers] A single flower 3/8 to ½ inch across at the end of a long naked stem, with 5 to 7 white petal-like sepals that drop off early. Numerous white-tipped stamens surround bright green styles that are curled at the tip. Alternating with the sepals are golden yellow club-shaped petals that are shorter than the stamens, with a cup-shaped tip that holds nectar. A plant typically has 1 flowering stem but may have multiples.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: compound Leaf type: palmate

[photo of leaves] Leaves are evergreen, basal, palmately compound in groups of 3 at the end of a naked stem that is shorter than the flower stem. Leaflets are fan-shaped, up to 1 inch long, hairless, with notched tips or shallow lobes, small teeth around the tip half, a shiny surface, and a minute stalk. Stems are slender and hairless.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is a candelabra array of 4 to 7 pods, each about 1/3 inch long, generally elliptic with a long taper to a pointed tip, the beak mostly straight, and on a stalk about as long as the pod.


This is an early and swift bloomer; the petal-like sepals do not last very long, making this species hard to catch at the right time. The common name Goldthread comes from its root system, which is thread-like and bright yellow.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk, taken at Boot Lake SNA, Anoka County


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Bob - Bog just w.of Judge Magney SP, N of Paradise Beach
on: 2014-06-05 08:56:13

May 31, at the base of a rotted stump in bog a few hundred feet inland from Lake Superior (on private cabin property) a first for me, will need to spend more time in the bog.

Posted by: Elaine - Caribou Lake, Cook County
on: 2017-06-07 19:33:48

A few feet from the lake in shady area, near rotting log.

Posted by: Cindy S - Solway
on: 2018-05-16 09:18:49

Guess I always thought these Goldenthread & the little flower that is blue and often in the same location, were the same flower? Have a lot of them in our woods in May. I always go looking for them! I just call them by the name May Flowers.

Posted by: Monique Venne - Moose Lake State Park
on: 2019-06-01 20:26:54

June 1, 2019, furthest part of Hiking Club trail. So dainty with the thread-like stem! First time for my husband and me.

Posted by: Brett W - Sherburne County
on: 2021-12-25 20:54:14

First time seeing was in a Sherburne county SNA and a few other spots along wetlands so thought that was its habitat. Found 7/19/21 along Mt. Leveaux trail in Cook county nowhere near water.

Posted by: Diana - Lake Bemidji State Park
on: 2023-05-17 14:02:11

I noted these tiny plants blooming on 5-17-23 along the edge of the path to Sundew Pond. Never saw them before!

Posted by: Cliff Gustafson - Winnipeg, Manitoba
on: 2024-01-15 15:12:55

When growing up in Red Lake, Northern Ontario I heard about and first picked Goldenthread Root (around 1972 when I was 17). I made a tea and gave it to my dad for a mild ulcer he had. I have picked it off and on over the decades. Likely gave it to at least 40 people who had ulcers. It cured everyone.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2024-01-15 15:30:03

Cliff, I just want to mention we do not condone harvesting plants in the wild without permission from the landowner, regardless of whether that's a private or public entity.

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