For this beautiful plant, it’s all about the foliage. Meadow rue has soft gray-green foliage that might remind you of the delicate leaves of columbine. The large, compound leaves are ternately divided (i.e. they are divided three times like a fern) into nine leaflets. The margin of each individual leaflet is gently rounded into lobes. The net effect of all this detail is a lacy and airy understory plant that grows to about 2 feet in height. There are several species of meadow rue in our area, and some get get quite tall. This one might be Early Meadow Rue–I’m not quite sure.
Meadow rue blooms in springtime, and because the flowers are so small, they are difficult to photograph. The flowers appear at the top of the plant in loose, nodding sprays that wave continuously in the breeze. Male and female flowers are on different plants (dioecious)and are different colors. The dangling male flowers have no petals and are mostly made up of yellow anthers. The female flowers can be green to purple.
Look for meadow rue on wooded slopes and in rich woods with limestone soils. I’ve seen it growing abundantly at Primland (Blue Ridge Mountain area) and at Falls Ridge Preserve. Plants that might be growing with it include twin leaf, wild ginger, jack-in-the-pulpit, yellow mandarin, and white trillium.
Click on any photo below for a larger view.