Staphylea trifolia (Bladdernut)

Plant Info
Also known as: American Bladdernut
Family:Staphyleaceae (Bladdernut)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade; average moisture; deciduous woods, thickets, floodplains, river banks, wooded bluffs
Bloom season:April - June
Plant height:6 to 16 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
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: bell Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Droopy clusters of 5 to 12 stalked flowers at the tips of 1-year-old branches, emerging with the leaves in spring. Flowers are bell-shaped with 5 white petals flaring at the tip, ¼ to ½ inch long. Protruding from the tube are 5 white stamens with yellow-orange tips and a greenish-white, 3-lobed style somewhat longer than the stamens. The sepals around the base of the flower have 5 oblong lobes that are pale green to reddish and nearly as long as the petals.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are opposite, compound with 3 leaflets on stalks up to 5 inches long. Leaflets are 2 to 4 inches long, 1 to 2½ inches wide, egg-shaped to elliptic with an abrupt taper to a sharply pointed tip. Edges are finely serrated. The upper surface is bright to dark green and hairless or hairy along the veins; the lower surface paler and hairy. The lateral leaflets are stalkless or nearly so with the terminal leaflet long stalked; stalks are hairless to sparsely hairy.

[photo of bark with pale fissures] New twigs are hairless, reddish to green becoming brown the second year. Older bark is gray-brown with distinctive pale fissures or flecks, smooth or somewhat rough and flaking with age. Stems are up to 2 inches diameter and may be single but usually multiple, new shoots arising from root suckers and forming thickets.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is an inflated, papery pod 1 to 2½ inches long, oval in outline with 3 pointed lobes, each section containing up to 4 seeds. Seeds are shiny brown, about ¼ inch long, and eventually become loose and rattle around inside the pod when shaken.


Bladdernut is a large shrub of deciduous woods and floodplain forest and reaches the northwest edge of its range in Minnesota. When flowering or especially fruiting it is not easily mistaken for any other shrub. The leaflets may resemble leaves of some other shrubs, such as Prunus, but the combination of long-stalked, opposite leaves compound in 3s, serrated leaflets hairy on the underside, and older bark that is gray-brown with pale streaks or fissures should help distinguish Bladdernut from other shrubs even when flowers or fruits are not present.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Fillmore and Houston counties.


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

Posted by: Nancy mcdaniels - Minnehaha falls down near creek in Minneapolis
on: 2021-08-23 11:01:47

We were on the boardwalk or just to one side of it. We are amateur prairie botanists. My husband is a painter,searching for ground pine to paint. I love to discover new plants. Saw forget me nots, too. Googled the shrub and up it came. I do not have a shrub identification book.

Posted by: Elizabeth Karre - Crosby Farm Park, St. Paul, Mn
on: 2022-11-14 06:53:49

Several of these shrubs along the dirt path just under the bluff that goes from the main parking lot to the Upper Lake.

Posted by: Calvin Utrex - Winona
on: 2023-07-20 22:20:41

We found this shrub at the base of a bluff in one of the swales flowing down through Woodlawn Cemetery. We hike here often but never noticed it flowering. Found it with seed pods yesterday. We were actually trying to find a batch of poke weed that must've escaped a grave decoration. We did find the poke weed, also. Toxic berries for making dye.

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