Kidneyleaf Grass-of-Parnassus

Parnassia asarifolia

A friend led me to a sphagnum bog in the mountains near Glen Alton, and that’s where we found a beautiful white wildflower in bloom:  the Grass of Parnassus!  Surrounding this plant was an immense diversity of other moisture-loving plants including sphagnum moss, sundews, cotton grass, horsetails, shining clubmoss, and alder.

IMG_0891First of all, this is not a grass!  This is a perennial herb with kidney-shaped basal leaves and tall flowering stems.  The leaves are 1 to 2 inches across and entire.  The flowering stems can grow up to 1.5 feet in height.

Each stem bears only one flower—but what a gem it is!  Five white petals outlined with strong greenish veins surround 5 prominent stamens with anthers.  Each of these anthers is then separated by 5 other smaller, sterile anthers! Together, the symphony of stamens and ornate petals conspire to create an exotic and arresting, late-summer flower.

Look for the Grass of Parnassus blooming near mountain swamps and seeps, and alongside streams, from late August thru October.  this plant is listed as endangered in Maryland and Kentucky.

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