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Moschatel

Adoxa moschatellina

  • Name also: Muskroot, Five-faced Bishop, Hollowroot, Townhall Clock, Tuberous Crowfoot
  • Family: Muskroot Family – Adoxaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock creeping, scaly. With runners.
  • Height: 8–15 cm (3.2–6 in.). Stem unbranched, glabrous.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), greenish yellow, 6–8 mm (0.24–0.32 in.) wide, fused, 4–5-lobed. Calyx with 2 or 3 lobes. Stamens 4 or 5, bitifid. Pistil of 4 or 5 fused carpels, style solitary, 5 stigmas. Inflorescence usually a 5-flowered dense cluster. Flowers fragrant.
  • Leaves: Base and stem with 2 opposite leaves . Basal leaf blades 2 times 3-lobed, lobes lobed–large-toothed, stem leaf blade lobed once, greyish green.
  • Fruit: Berry-like, greenish, 5 mm (0.2 in.) long. Infructescence curving towards ground when ripe.
  • Habitat: Broad-leaved forests (boulders and rocky outcrops), stream and river banks.
  • Flowering time: May–June.

As can be deduced from moschatel’s delicate presence and thin leaves, the species is a shade plant which favours damp, very rich and loamy broad-leaved forests. Its fairly coherent habitat stretches from the Åland Islands to southern Häme and Uusimaa. Separate stands exist in South Karelia at Finland’s eastern border with Russia, the mouth of River Kemijoki and in eastern Lapland. Moschatel is not super-rare, but on the other hand many eager botanists have never seen this most modest plant in its favoured broad-leaved forests. Its scientific name Adoxa means unknown, which is an apt description of its low height and green appearance. Many botanists pass moschatel by, thinking it is a wood anemone or creeping buttercup shoot. On closer inspection however moschatel can turn out to be quite common in some places, forming extensive, mat-like stands with delicate roots. When kneeling down by the plant it becomes possible to detect its leaves’ faint musky fragrance – the flowers smell like garbage and apparently attract all kinds of flies that are interested in rotting food to pollinate it.

Finding moschatel is not so easy as it is small, modest-looking and is not visible for a long time. Moschatel germinates early in the spring, flowers in May and disappears underground already during the summer to wait for the following winter to end. Careful digging can reveal the plant’s roots and runners, which are covered with scaly leaves that act as spare nutrition. Before it enters its rest period moschatel lowers its fruits to the ground, where ants and snails gorge on them, spreading its seeds.

Trees and bushes from the same family

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