This perennial wildflower forms a rosette of ascending to
spreading basal leaves. Individual basal leaves are 6-12" long and 2-4"
across; they are dull green, elliptic to ovate in shape, smooth
along their margins, and hairless. The basal leaves have parallel veins
and they are longitudinally pleated. During some years, Wood's
Bunchflower produces an unbranched flowering stalk about 3-6' tall.
Relatively few alternate leaves are located along the lower-half of
each stalk. The alternate leaves are similar to the basal leaves,
except their bases are more slender, and they become much smaller in
size while ascending the flower stalk. The bases of these alternate
sheath each stalk. Each central stalk is light green, terete, and
pubescent, terminating in an inflorescence about 1-2' long.
inflorescence consists of either a narrow raceme or elongated panicle
of flowers. On each inflorescence, the upper flowers are perfect, while
the lower flowers are staminate (male). The peduncle, lateral branches,
and pedicels of the inflorescence are light green and pubescent,
becoming dark brown with age. When
lateral branches are present, they are 2-8" long and ascending to
spreading (usually the former). The pedicels of the flowers
are short (less than ½" long). Usually, there are narrow leafy
bracts less than ½" long at the bases of the branches and pedicels.
Perfect flowers are ½-¾" across, consisting of 6 widely spreading
tepals, a small superior ovary, 6 stamens, and 3 styles. The narrow
tepals are reddish brown (maroon) overall. The tepals
have pairs of
dark red glands at their bases, while toward the middle of each tepal
there is often a transverse band of pale green or pale yellow. The
ovary of each flower is light green, finely short-pubescent, and
ovoid-conical in shape. Staminate flowers are the same as perfect
flowers, except they lack an ovary and styles. The blooming period
occurs from mid- to late summer for about 1 month.
perfect flowers are replaced by 3-celled seed capsules that become,
when they are mature, about ¾-1" long and about one-half as much
across. These capsules have 3 longitudinal lobes with sharp ridges;
they are usually sparsely pubescent and change color from green to dark
brown. Each capsule usually contains only 0-3 seeds, although sometimes
there are more. The tan-colored angular seeds are up to ½" long and ¼"
across. The root system is rhizomatous. Sometimes vegetative offsets
develop from the rhizomes.
The preference is dappled sunlight or light shade, moist conditions,
and a rich soil that is often derived from glacial till. This
wildflower has very few problems with insects pests and disease
organisms. In any given year, entire colonies of plants may fail to
The native Wood's
Bunchflower is restricted to central Illinois, where it is uncommon. In
the past, this wildflower was state-listed
as 'threatened,' but it was recently removed from this list as
additional colonies of plants were discovered. Wood's Bunchflower is
its range; it occurs
primarily in Indiana,
Illinois, and Missouri. Habitats include north- or east-facing wooded
along rivers, areas near streams in hilly woodlands, and shaded
ravines. This wildflower is restricted to high quality deciduous
woodlands where the original ground flora is still intact.
Almost nothing is known about
relationships for Wood's Bunchflower. The maroon-colored flowers are
probably cross-pollinated by flies and beetles. The caterpillars of a
highly polyphagous moth, Xestia
(Smith's Dart), reportedly feed
on this or a closely related species. Generally, Melanthium spp.
(Bunchflowers) and the closely related Veratrum spp.
have foliage, roots, and seeds that are considered highly poisonous to
mammalian herbivores. There is some evidence that these plants are
teratogenic, causing fatal birth defects in sheep. However, it is not
uncommon to encounter specimens of Wood's Bunchflower that have been
partially eaten by White-Tailed Deer.
photograph of the basal leaves was taken on a wooded slope facing a
river in Vermilion County, Illinois, while the photograph of the seed
capsules was taken in a hilly woodland near a stream in Coles County,
Taxonomists are still divided regarding the
classification of this wildflower: Some authorities refer to this
species as Melanthium
(Wood's Bunchflower), as described here,
while others refer to it as Veratrum
(Wood's False Hellebore).
Perhaps additional genetic analysis will be helpful in resolving this
conflict. The large basal leaves of Wood's Bunchflower are very
conspicuous. This is one of the tallest wildflowers to bloom in
woodlands during the summer, but the flowers are not produced reliably
from year-to-year. The reason for this inconsistent flowering is not
clear. Wood's Bunchflower is closely related to Melanthium virginicum
(Virginia Bunchflower), but the latter species is found in damp sunny
habitats. Virginia Bunchflower has white flowers, rather than maroon
ones, and its leaves are more slender than those of Wood's Bunchflower.
Both species are unusual in having conspicuous glands at the bases of