Aplectrum hyemale (Muhl. ex Willd.) Torr.
This is a truly odd plant. It isn’t deciduous: it doesn’t lose its leaves in the winter. Neither is it evergreen, keeping them all year around. Instead, it has a single leaf at ground level that emerges in the fall and persists until spring. The leaf is “wintergreen,” and the species name, hyemale, means “winter.” No other plant does this. (Putty root is not related to wintergreen—“wintergreen” literally means “stays green through the winter,” not a flavor.) Roots of this plant were crushed to produce a gluelike fluid, used variously to mend items and for medicinal purposes—this is the origin of the name “putty root.” Plants are quite rare, and tend to be scattered.
Plants: Represented by a single dark bluish-green leaf in the winter, in summer, the plant’s single stem reaches 5-9" (13-24 cm) in height, with several more opposite leaves and a single spike of flowers.
Leaves: Leaves are oval, 3½-8" (8.9-20 cm) long, with smooth edges and sharp tips, with many prominent, roughly parallel veins.
Flowers: The flower spike (raceme) contains 6 to 10 flowers, each ⅜-½" (1-1.4 cm) long × ¹/₁₆-⅛" (2-4 mm) wide. Purplish-green flowers have starlike petals and sepals and three central white-purple lobes. (Flowers may also be yellow or white, with a purplish tinge.) Flowering is from late May to the end of June.
Fruits: Seed pods are elliptical in shape, ¾-1" (1.9-2.5 cm) long, shiny green in color, with narrow ridges. The pods taper to a point at both ends, and contain a large number of tiny seeds.
Aplectrum hyemale at the Orchids of Wisconsin
Aplectrum hyemale on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Aplectrum hyemale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Aplectrum hyemale at Lucas Land: The Wildflowers of Highland and Bath Counties, Virginia
Aplectrum hyemale at the University of Wisconsin's Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
Aplectrum hyemale on eFloras
Aplectrum hyemale description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 21 Apr 2019.
Range: Zones 3-8: