Plant Profile: Chamaelirium luteum-False Unicorn Root

By: David Edmundson

Sometimes, just the name alone is enough to draw one’s attention to a plant. With common names such as Devil’s Bit, False Unicorn Root, Rattlesnake Root, and Fairy Wand, Chamaelirium luteum more than qualifies in this respect. Additionally, this plant has a rich history of herbal usage. North American Indians made extensive use of it in treating “female complaints” and preventing miscarriage. To this day, Western herbal medicine values it for a variety of symptoms.

Were all these attributes not enough to garner one’s admiration, this plant is physically unique and attractive besides. Growing in organically rich, moist, acidic, well-drained soils from full sun to moderate shade, it’s inconspcious basal rosettes celebrate May and June by producing showy spikes of white flowers 2 to four feet tall. Adding to the uniqueness of this species is the fact that the plants are either male or female, and unlike mammalian species, the female individuals tend to be taller and more robust than their male counterparts.

If grown in satisfactory conditions, rhizomatous Chamaelirium luteum will produce offshoots and naturalize. Whether grouped in a woodland setting, or displayed in border plantings, this plant draws attention and provokes conversation.

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