This delicate beauty forms a low, loose mat of glossy, evergreen leaves and bell-shaped, pink flowers. It was named after Carolus Linnaeus, father of modern botany, who was so fond of the plant that he held it for his painted portrait and used it as his personal emblem. Linnaeus wrote that twinflower had the same qualities he ascribed to himself: “lowly, insignificant and flowering for a brief space.” As a circumboreal plant that inhabits boreal regions of North America and Eurasia and high elevations in the south, it slowly forms a dense mat in cool, moist, and shady conditions. In sunnier and drier habitats, twinflower grows more sparsely.
A member of the honeysuckle family, twinflower is actually a trailing dwarf shrub with stems up to 3 feet long and several inches high and flowering stalks that stand 4 to 6 inches tall. The small, fragrant flowers grow in pairs (thus the common name) and have been described as little lanterns nodding gently on a Y-shaped lamppost. The scent and color of the flowers attract small bees for pollination, and narrow, pink lines guide them to the nectaries. The slender flower stalk is covered with fine hairs tipped with sticky material that may deter unwelcome insects from stealing pollen.
Twinflower needs genetically different individuals to successfully set seed, and it has a low germination rate. It usually spreads most effectively by stolons to form clonal patches. This has led to some genetic stagnation, which, along with climate change, has reduced its range. Although it’s very durable, it appears on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ list of extirpated plants due to increased summer temperatures and logging, which has opened the tree canopy, creating drier habitats.
Native habitats include mossy and moist woods, bogs, shrub borders, and north-facing ravines. Makes a good groundcover in woodland gardens and rock gardens. Space plants two feet apart. The most-effective way to propagate is through stem cuttings, though this reduces genetic diversity.
Grows 3-6” tall and 3’ long.
Prefers part to full shade.
Prefers soils that are well-drained, moist, cool, and rich, but adapts to sandy and clay soils. Will not tolerate drought.
Flowers grow May-July on upright, mostly leafless, curving stems. Flowers are paired, pendulous, and about ½” long. Each whitish-pink corolla has a slender, tube-shaped base that flares into a funnel shape with 5 rounded lobes. Fruits appear after flowering as small, dry, 3-celled capsules with hooked bristles and a single seed.
Glossy, bright-green leaves appear in pairs on slender, hairy stems. Leaves are obovate or rounded and about ¼” long with a few shallow teeth on the upper halves.
The honeysuckle family hosts 26 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including hummingbird and snowberry clearwing moths, great leopard moth, and two specialist moths. Insect visitors include long- and short-tongued bees, wasps, sawflies, flies, skippers, and beetles. The yellow-bellied flycatcher, a ground nester, builds its nest in microclimates where twinflower is part of the local ground cover, according to wildadirondacks.org.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used the plant as a tonic in pregnancy and also to treat painful menstruation. A decoction of twigs was given to children to treat cramps, fever, or excessive crying. A tea was used for colds, as a poultice on inflamed limbs and to ease headaches.
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