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March Flora Spotlight:
Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla

Twinleaf
Jeffersonia diphylla


Twinleaf or rheumatism root was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson by his friend and fellow botanist William Bartram.  Many do not realize what a great gardener and naturalist Jefferson was.  He left us volumes of his observations and experiments from his gardens and his friendships with like-minded people.

Twinleaf is an herbaceous perennial member of the Berberidaceae (Barberry) family. This 
family contains perennial herbs or shrubs with often-spiny stems and/or leaves and single 
flowers. The leaves and flowers of this plant are smooth and emerge directly from the rhizome at the base of the plant.  It has showy white flowers with eight petals; the flower resembles Bloodroot. The short-lived flower appears in spring, before the forest canopy appears. The fruit is a green pear-shaped capsule with a hinged top. The characteristic leaves are large and nearly divided in half, giving rise to its common name, twinleaf.  Plants in this genus rarely grow taller than 12 inches. As with many other deciduous forest plants, the seeds are dispersed by ants, a process known as myrmecology.

Native Americans utilized Jeffersonia diphylla for a variety of medicines. The Cherokee reportedly used an infusion of this plant for treating dropsy and urinary tract problems. It was
also used as a poultice for sores and inflammation. The Iroquois used a decoction of the plant to treat liver problems and diarrhea. The whole plant was used in early American medicine as an antispasmodic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and general tonic. The "root" was once also used as an emetic in large doses and as an expectorant in small doses. Modern medicine does not currently utilize this plant.   

Jeffersonia diphylla grows best when grown in moist, humus, well-drained, limestone soils in part shade. It can also tolerate full shade. Plants are best sited under the canopies of large deciduous trees where they will receive part sun in spring before the trees leaf out, but are well-shaded throughout the heat of the summer. There are no serious insect or disease problems 


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