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Plant Description


Clintonia borealis (Aiton) Raf.

En: cornlily, yellow clintonia, poisonberry, bluebead lily
Fr: clintonie boréale
Oj: ozawa tootaugauhnse, (g)odotaagaans

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Click on thumbnail to see larger image.
Clintonia borealisflpl Clintonia borealisflw Clintonia borealisfrpl Clintonia borealisfrt Clintonia borealisill


General: A perennial, scapose forb, to 50 cm tall, growing from a slender rhizome. Nectaries are present at the base of the tepals.

Leaves: Basal, 2–4 (usually 3), blades elliptic to narrowly obovate, to 30 cm long and 10 cm wide. Leaf blade are light green, glossy and somewhat stiff; sheathing at the base; apex short-acuminate; margins entire and finely hairy.

Flowers: In a loose umbel-like terminal cluster of 2-8 flowers, nodding to erect ; petals and sepals alike (tepals), 6, yellow to greenish-yellow, oblong to lanceolate, to 1.6 cm long; stamens 6, slightly longer than the petals; ovary superior, 2-locular, with several ovules per locule. Flowering from May to July.

Fruit: Each flowering stem may bear 1 to few berries on stiff, erect stalks. Berries are somewhat poisonous, about 1 cm in diameter, bright to deep blue, shiny or sometimes with a paler (glaucous) bloom, with firm white flesh and many seeds. Fruits ripen in August.

Habitat and Range: Rich coniferous and mixedwood stands, thickets. As the name suggests, Clintonia borealis in native to boreal regions of northeastern North America, where it is a very common understory plant.

Similar Species: The poisonous fruits of Clintonia borealis may be confused with the edible fruits of blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), especially by children, who see only a bright "blue berry." Clintonia berries are smooth, with a slight dimple where the style was attached to the ovary. Blueberries, which develop from an inferior ovary, bear a persistent crown of 5 short-triangular teeth (the calyx lobes). Anyone picking blueberries should learn to differentiate between these two berries, as several berries may be enough to poison a young child.

Internet Images: The Clintonia borealis page from Connecticut Botanical Society.
The Clintonia borealis page from borealforest.org.

– written by Derek Goertz & Sue Meades

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